Saturday, November 04, 2000

Progress threatens Golden Lamb

        LEBANON — Of all the smaller towns I've covered, Lebanon just might be the most attractive and pleasant. It has something special — ambience, for lack of a better word.

        It's also one of the few towns in Southwest Ohio that still looks much like it did in 1900 — at least when twilight creeps across Broadway and the mood is right.

        An undefinable part of Lebanon's success is the Golden Lamb, which bills itself as Ohio's Oldest Inn. From its creaking floors to the wide Christmas punch bowl, the inn embodies the 19th century — and Lebanon.

        Civic groups meet there. Families gather there. One couple has returned there on each wedding anniversary for 60 years.

        That's why I found a news story so disturbing.

Rebuild Main Street

               At Tuesday's City Council meeting, the inn's general manager said the Golden Lamb's business would be in jeopardy if the city continues with plans to rebuild Main Street (Ohio 63).

        Plans call for two miles of reconstruction that would reroute traffic through town for 13 to 19 months. The $10 million project is scheduled to start next spring unless council decides against it.

        Council has a real problem. The city has sought to improve the road for 30 years, and the state won't help pay for the project unless the road is widened with a middle turning lane.

        Many business owners oppose the project, saying it would hurt sales and threaten the progress they have made over the last decade.

        Downtown Lebanon is only beginning to recover from the impact of chain stores and the trend toward big retailers — the mall syndrome that has helped destroy so many small-town business districts.

        But unlike most small communities, Lebanon's brick downtown has been redefining itself. As the local department store, clothing store, hardware store and five-and-dime have closed, the downtown has replaced them with a collection of specialty and antiques shops.

An appropriate mix
               The downtown bastion remains busy — both as a business center and as a reminder of what small towns once looked like. (Lebanon's old-fashioned appearance has landed it roles in two films, Harper Valley PTA and Milk Money.).

        Through it all, Lebanon's major tourist attraction and social focal point is still the Golden Lamb. If it closes. Lebanon could face difficult times.

        In a perfect world, the Golden Lamb would remain in Lebanon forever, a reminder of what the town — and nation — once were.

        Call Randy McNutt at 860-7118 or write to The Cincinnati Enquirer, 4820 Business Center Way, Cincinnati, OH 45246.


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