Apr 21, 2015 01:54PM
● By Steven Hoffman
(This story originally appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of Middletown Life)
Tracy Skrobot is not a native of Middletown, but before long she might be able to pass for one.
Like so many others who moved to Middletown in the last ten or fifteen years—the town’s population doubled once in that time and is expected to do so again by 2020—she has fallen in love with the quaint charm and the quality of life that is offered here.
She has immersed herself in the history of the town, striking up innumerable conversations to learn everything she can about Middletown’s past from the locals in town.
“They like talking about what life was like here many years ago. I just pick their brains. I want to know more,” Skrobot said.
She has a natural interest in the history of things—she jokes that she must have lived during another time period in previous life—and liked learning, for instance, about the importance of peaches in Middletown’s history, or about specific old houses in the town.
Since moving her shop from the Kirkwood Highway to Middletown in 2005, she has liked doing business here so much that now she is firmly entrenched as the President of the Board of Directors of the Middletown Main Street program. In that position, she’s an integral part of the effort to lure new businesses—like her own The Country Corner—to the downtown district, and to refurbish other businesses and residences while retaining the historic character of the town.
“In the last two years, we’ve done a lot of work on façades and the paint program has been very successful,” she said. “We’ve been able to help a lot of the merchants in the historic district. We’ve secured grants for businesses to improve their signs and awnings. We do have guidelines that they have to follow because we’re trying to keep it historical.”
In Middletown, the downtown district extends for about a six-block radius, includes Main, Green, and Broad Streets, and contains a nice mix of business and residential properties. Cochran Square, Skrobot said, is still the focal point for the district. She serves as the chairperson of the Design Committee and enjoys striving to meet the overriding goal of the Main Street program, which is to rejuvenate the downtown while maintaining the history and architecture of the town.
“Every town has something unique to offer,” she noted.
Skrobot purchased a house at the corner of Scott and Main in 2005. She moved her business, after 18 years in a high-traffic location, into a unique setting in Middletown: The Country Corner, which specializes in country décor, is actually situated in an historic house.
“It’s in a house, there’s a living room, a kitchen. It’s slowly being restored to how it was in the 1850s.” She continued, “The house is just in great shape. I was lucky enough that there was someone who already had cared for this house.”
The new location for her business is about the same size as the old one, but because it is in a much less visible spot, the clientele has been different.
“I knew it would be quieter. I am a destination shop. They are coming for what I have,” she explained. “I’ve found my niche here.”
A far-reaching streetscape project that the town has undertaken will ultimately make a big difference in the amount of traffic that passes through the downtown district. Brick sidewalks, benches, trees, and the like are intended to make downtown more inviting. All the overhead telephone lines are being replaced by underground ones. Middletown’s downtown was once picturesque and bustling; the hope is that it will be once again. In the last decade, Middletown has approximately doubled its population with explosive residential and commercial growth in the outlying areas of town, a result of aggressive annexation of large tracts of property. Making the downtown district more desirable for people to live and work and shop is a top priority, Skrobot said.
“The idea is to get people to come back to the downtown,” she explained. “We’re trying to get new and unique businesses in here.” She mentioned the Purple Sage, a petite spa for young children, and a frame & art store as examples of one-of-a-kind shops that are located in the downtown district.
Skrobot said that she relishes life in Middletown, and is an enthusiastic promoter of the opportunities here, making her an ideal candidate to serve on the Board of Directors of the town’s Main Street program.
“There’s so much potential. If you have an old property, it’s built better than what they build today,” she commented.
Sometimes, when Skrobot is talking to one of the town’s longtime residents, she hears concerns about how the growth might affect Middletown. But she is optimistic that this represents an opportunity to make a good place to live and work an even better one.
“People are coming. We have a lot of retirees coming to the area. Some people don’t like the change, but you can’t stop the progress. You just have to manage it. I think the town works to do that.”