Main Street evokes a particular image that is certainly challenged by the expensive homes on some of these Main Streets featured on Curbed. Here is one example:
Nantucket’s historic Main Street has been home to impeccably-maintained million-dollar mansions for decades, so it surprised the Times to find 141 Main in a shoddy state in 2001. That very house has since been fully renovated and listed for $7.9M. The historic columned manse, known as the George C. Gardner House, dates to 1835 and sits on a half-acre lot, but lacks any view of the ocean. There is, however, a private swimming pool, which, according to the listing, could no longer be installed under Historic District regulations.
As suggested by the Wall Street versus Main Street political rhetoric in recent years, Main Street is a powerful idea. Or look at the entry area in Walt Disney’s theme parks: a recreated version of the Main Street of the town in which he grew up.
In reality, real Main Streets don’t really matter as much today. Most Americans don’t live in small towns (with a majority of Americans now living in suburbs), many post-World War II communities don’t really have Main Streets, and businesses are now spread out all over the place in strip malls, shopping malls, business parks, and lifestyle centers. Americans are not as interested in running into neighbors and acquaintances on Main Street; we’d rather do so on Facebook.
These expensive listings suggest a transformation of Main Street away from the ideals of community life to the best private residences money can buy. Main Street, like many other things, can become commodified and can become exclusive by being priced out of the reach of many Americans. Additionally, these listings remind us of the variability across Main Streets. As we might guess, the Main Street of Santa Monica, California is going to be quite different than the Main Street of small town Kansas.