Hello from hopeless London, Ohio

As a journalist, I’ve had my fair share of angry, ridiculous phone calls from someone accusing me of writing a slanted news article. Those folks often claim I’m trying to pursue a personal agenda — something that’s laughable because my only agenda all day is eating chocolate at least once. I have also been accused of being a member of “the liberal media.”

And maybe because I’m a journalist is why I found the article about the reopening of the State Theater published in Wednesday’s Columbus Dispatch so shocking. It could also be because I consider London my town.

“Have you read the Dispatch article?” I was asked at least a dozen times throughout the day.

Did you know our city was in the news this week? Hello from hopeless London, Ohio.

If you have not read the article, let me share the first couple sentences.

“An empty whiskey bottle props open a window of the condemned building, and a drug user’s spoon and makeshift pipe litter the front entrance. It’s an unwanted snapshot of this Madison County city — empty storefronts, unemployment, substance abuse and blight — and part of a scrapbook that leaders are trying to close.”

I mean, I take a few moments every morning to pick up the whiskey bottles, heroin spoons and aluminum foil turned crack pipe from the steps of The Madison Press.

I’m kidding. Drug users here do not litter.

The article goes on to quote a teenager struggling to stay in school, local businessmen lamenting about the sad state of the city (although some have privately told me they spoke very positively of downtown, but felt the reporter was asking very negative questions), and an older couple mourning over what downtown was during the 1950s.

I know a handful of local leaders were excited that the big city newspaper was sending the reporter to our town to write a piece about Rob and Shannon Treynor’s venture of opening the theater.

Of course, I could argue that the story has been covered relentlessly by this newspaper. Information-wise, I like to think we are the beating heart of this community. But for the purpose of this column, I’ll let that slide.

They thought the story was about the Treynors, and the community raising $40,000 toward the cause. In my opinion, that story was enough. It’s inspiring. It’s about a family, a dream and a revitalization.

Instead, what they got was a dramatic picture of a sad, depressed town with no hope unless a theater re-opens.

We have a McDonald’s, so it can’t be that bad.

To be fair, we know London has a drug problem. Our entire society has a drug problem, and London is not an exception.

We know our downtown isn’t what it used to be, but it sure is looking a hell of a lot better than it did a couple years ago. We know it would be nice if the theater re-opened (which is why the community supported the effort), and if a handful of old storefronts were full of businesses.

We also know there are particular addresses that need a lot of help.

But the state of downtown does not rely solely on the State. We already have anchor retailers such as Dwyer Brothers Hardware, Fine Designs & Interiors, Piccadillies, Play-N-Trade and Davis Seed. We also have Casey’s Carry-Out, Ronettis, Phat Daddy’s, Crager Real Estate, Huntington, Limelight Photography and Scooterbug Boutique and Mabe’s.

I know I’m missing many more. The Dispatch article missed all of them.

The problem of how an old-fashioned downtown can remain relevant in the modern retail world is not fixed overnight. It is a society-wide problem that is fixed with time and with younger locals stepping up to lead a community.

And that is happening right now in London. Ironically, one month ago I wrote about how our downtown is improving and our community as a whole is undergoing its own revitalization.

Will it ever be what it used to? Probably not. Shopping habits have changed. But it could be something better than what it is. We realize that.

Outside of downtown London, Madison County has much to offer. Plain City is growing and the commerce park at West Jefferson is bustling with new companies.

Madison County has challenges, but unemployment is not one of them, as our readers already know.

The most recent figures released by the state show Madison County’s unemployment rate in May was just 3.8 percent. Statewide, only nine counties ranked better. The state unemployment rate is 5.2 percent.

A couple of locals have fired back at the Dispatch. Tom Cox, a manager at FirstMerit Bank, left an especially emotional comment on the newspaper’s public website.

“What the Treynor family, and the Peytons and Johnsons before them, is doing with the theater is admirable and could provide a needed lift to Downtown London. However, London has many good things going for it already,” he writes. “Unfortunately, one of them is not this [news story]. You should have told a story of a family trying to make a difference in their community versus a story that would make it seem all hope is lost — which is patently untrue.”

Well said.

If anything, leaders are hoping the bad publicity will light a fire on the tail-ends of locals.

“My hope is that this article gets a rise out of people enough to make them get active,” David Kell, director of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce, told me Thursday evening. “Let’s see something positive come out of this: a vibrant downtown.”

Andrea McKinney can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619 or via Twitter @AndeeWrites.