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Looking ahead

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Watertown has always prided itself on the history of the Arcade on Public Square, the second oldest downtown shopping arcade in the nation.

The first such shopping mall was the Westminster Arcade in Providence, R.I. Built in 1828 in the heart of the city, it is distinguished by Greek Revival columns and granite walls.

Today, it is no longer a shopping venue. The national historic landmark had closed in 2008 reeling from the deterioration of the nation’s economy.

Now it has reopened with 48 micro lofts of 225 to 450 square feet each, renting for $550 a month. On the main floor will be restaurants and shops.

This transformation in Rhode Island allows Watertown’s Arcade to add to its distinction by taking clear possession at the top spot on the nation’s historic mall rankings. The Paddock Arcade was built in 1850 by Loveland Paddock for $15,000. Mr. Paddock, a Jefferson County banker, patterned the design after he saw drawings and a picture of the famed Beaucharnois Arcade in Paris while on a visit to New York City.

It was also called the “glass-covered street” because of its ceiling of amber glass. People from throughout Northern and Central New York traveled to Watertown to “see the street that was covered with glass.” During World War II and in the 1950s until the destruction of downtown by urban renewal, the arcade’s grocery, newsstand, travel agency, barber and beauty shop, cobblers, the Parisian shop, Robinson’s in the Arcade, Herrick’s drugstore and the Catholic shop drew loyal shoppers week after week.

The Arcade was always busy and very crowded between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Memories of the Arcade are deeply etched in the minds of many lifelong residents.

As downtown collapsed, the Arcade struggled to survive changing hands as buyers attempted to restore economic life downtown.

Today, it is owned by a local investors led by Donald G.M. Coon III, who have worked hard to return the building to its historic grace. Local investment has meant more stores rented, more foot traffic, lunch spots, night life and a farmers market, all of which are drawing traffic to downtown. Their persistence and risk taking is an integral part of the revitalization of downtown.

And now they and the community are rewarded by earning the distinction of becoming the oldest city center mall in the country solely operating as a retail center.

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