Edwardsville, Illinois, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the St. Louis metropolitan region. That didn’t stop a local official from saying the city was missing an opportunity for Route 66 tourism.
Historic Preservation Commission associate member Cindy Reinhardt talked about those missed opportunities in front of the Edwardsville City Council, according to the Daily Intellgencer:
“Thousands of Route 66 tourists come through Edwardsville every year, but they don’t stop,” Reinhardt said. “We don’t have a tourist information center on Route 66. We need a place for them to stop to learn about our shops, restaurants, museums, hotels and historic districts. They need to be able to see it along the route without having to seek it out.” […]
“We don’t broadcast our Route 66 connection. If it weren’t for the state signs out there, the traveler just driving through town doesn’t see a Route 66 souvenir shop or signs in the store. We don’t have photo opportunities for them,” Reinhardt said. “Edwardsville is barely mentioned in most tourism brochures.”
Credit-card receipts, according to Reinhardt, prove that Route 66 tourists are coming through Edwardsville.
“All of the foreign tourists have to go inside (gas stations) because their credit cards won’t work outside at the pumps. We talked to the folks at the gas station, and they see them all the time,” Reinhardt said. “In September, there were 60 or so motorcycles that came through with tourists from Australia. They stopped at the Shell Station, got their gas and basically left.”
Reinhardt cited Atlanta, Illinois, and Shamrock, Texas, as cities that capitalized on their Route 66 roots. Atlanta saw sales-tax revenue increase by 34 percent since 2009. (Reinhardt obviously attended the “How to Turn Community Into a Route 66 Hot Spot” presentation during last month’s Miles of Possibility conference in Edwardsville.)
She said during the conference, Route 66 tourists enjoyed the Stagger Inn Again restaurant and bar and the historic Wildey Theatre, which hosted the event. But she noted there were no Edwardsville souvenirs available.
The most prosperous cities along Route 66 are among the worst in exploiting the Mother Road and historic preservation. Edmond, Oklahoma, a fast-growing suburb of Oklahoma City, contains almost no landmarks from the Route 66 era. Edwardsville has lost its share of historic buildings in recent years — most notably a classic A&W restaurant fancied by cruisers for years.
Towns that had struggled with their growth and economies got creative in drawing tourists. Also, many towns that declined during the interstate-bypass era didn’t tear down their historic buildings because no one could afford to do so. That’s called “preservation by neglect.”
(Hat tip to Cheryl Eichar Jett; image of downtown Edwardsville by Paul Sableman via Flickr)