Third-generation barber Matt Jarnigan always knew what he'd do for a living, he just didn't know where. Looking at his professional future, he chose part of America's past: a small town barber shop on Main Street USA, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod.
"It was almost an instant success," Jarnigan said. "The people came in. They were really friendly. You don't get that in the big city at all. People seem so closed off. They just drive around in their cars. They never stop and say hi."
Call it "renaissance by Rockwell". All-American downtowns rebuilt, revitalized, and revolving around a thriving Main Street like the one in Cordell, Oklahoma.
"We're kind of rediscovering our past. The 50's and 60's that I remember is kind of what we're seeing again around here," said Mayor Phil Kliewer.
Hobbled by a farm crisis and an oil bust, Main Street, Cordell 10 years ago was like thousands of small towns across the country: boarded up and beaten down. "You just kind of went about your daily duties and hoped that the next day would bring a customer," said businesswoman Sherrill Morris.
The Main Street Program rescued Cordell. Run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it helped Cordell raise millions of dollars to restore crumbling storefronts, expand old businesses and attract new ones.
"This is not a Disneyland downtown. This is real," said program director Melinda Lingle. This search for something "real" has consumed a lot of people lately across the country. Those who see the suburban masses - alienated and disconnected - and wonder how to close the gap. In more than a thousand towns so far "Main Street" has been a way to mend holes in their economies and their souls.
"It's very hard to find the sense of community on a strip mall, but you can find it in an attractive downtown," said Dick Moe of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The program has rebuilt 1,300 Main Streets from Pasadena, California, to Northampton, Massachusetts. Even helping Chicago make State Street that great street again. Main Streets have created 45,000 new businesses and 162,000 new jobs - moving ahead by looking back. "I think it takes us back to our roots. Everybody came from a small town at some point," said businesswoman Sherrill Morris.
Attractive as it is, this 19th century model would be just a façade if not for 21st century know-how.
Businessman Jim Price uses a computer to bid on sweatshirt contracts around the world from his home in Cordell. A generation after interstates killed Main Street, the cyberhighway is helping to revive it. "This gives me the opportunity to live in western Oklahoma, raise my family in a small community, but run my business just as if I were in New York City," Price said.
With twice-daily package pick-ups, Price competes from here with anyone, anywhere. He is using Main Street to prospr while his kids have a safe place to play and a good $7 haircut is just down the block.
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Copyright 1999 CBS. All rights reserved.
CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff