The lights are much brighter there

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 29, 2005

I used to spend a good bit of time in downtown Suffolk on Sundays.

Nearly five years ago when I moved here, we had a lot of work to get done and I was here sometimes seven days a week. Plus, we had a Monday newspaper then (I’m convinced Monday morning newspapers were the invention of Satan) so someone had to be here to put it together.

Sunday mornings in downtown Suffolk were my favorite time. I would come to the office between 6 and 7 a.m. and until church got started, I was the only human life form in town – apart from the couple crackheads who were usually sleeping it off on the benches at Character Corner. It was a peaceful feeling, though it could be kind of eerie as well – like one of those old Twilight Zone episodes when the entire planet was wiped out except for one guy.

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I always made a sandwich and brought it with me if I planned on being here long because if you got hungry, you were out of luck unless you wanted to search through the dumpsters.

There was a little bustle between 9 and 12:30 with people going to and from church, but as soon as the pastors dismissed them, they got the heck out.

Things ultimately got smoothed out some at the office and we mercifully dropped the Monday publication in favor of a Saturday edition. As a result, I stopped coming downtown on Sundays, cutting the Sunday morning population by 33 percent.

I found earlier this week, however, that that is apparently no longer the case. There are actually things going on downtown on Sundays.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Downtown Business Association, Ed Beardsley of Art’s Kitchen, made the comment that he is serving some 250 meals on Sundays and it’s the restaurant’s busiest day. I was amazed. Five years ago I bet there weren’t that many meals served in downtown Suffolk in a week. Other restaurants are open, too, so there must actually be people walking the streets, pursuing normal human leisure time activity.

The crackheads are gone. We now have a nice, robust central business district that is on the verge of becoming a lot more so.

Michael Bollinger, the executive director of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, was the speaker at the DBA meeting – a bright, enthusiastic champion of the arts he.

Frankly, while I’ve certainly been aware that a lot of money was being spent on the former Suffolk High School building to turn it into a cultural mecca, I was unaware of the extent of what is going on just down the block from the paper and that a year from now it will completely transform the lives of many of us who are here each day. Classes, plays, concerts, dances, a senior center, the vistas – even now, have you seen one so impressive as that heading west on Finney Avenue from Pinner? – will make for a completely different, and better, Suffolk than any that has ever existed.

I realize I’m gushing, but the change is remarkable and I’m as excited about being in the middle of it as I’ve been about anything in my professional life. The opportunity will be (is) here for so many businesspeople to capitalize and take their establishments beyond anything they ever thought possible.

I know there has been a lot of criticism of the &uot;downtown plan&uot; – much of it emanating from writers on this page, even me at times – but you know what opinions are like; everybody has one. The arguments are certainly viable that taxpayer money plowed into making the downtown resurgence possible, could just have easily and justifiably been spent providing basic, 20th century services to rural parts of Suffolk. And, yes, it could have been returned to us in tax cuts. But the fact remains that it wasn’t. It was spent downtown. We’re in it up to our ears, and it’s working. Sure, so far perhaps only a few may be momentarily monetarily benefiting, but we need to be thinking in terms of generations, not months or even years. Prosperity spreads and all of Suffolk will benefit.

I have no doubt critics will eventually come around.

Even my wife, who was one of those people who thought the world began and ended at Chesapeake Square – she not only never came downtown but not unjustifiably literally feared it – is a convert. All it took to bring her around was a single visit to Java 149. She’s anxious now to return.

It’s time to come back downtown. If

for no other reason than to get a decent meal.

And by the way, I never really ate out of the dumpsters. Most of them were locked.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or via email at