VOL. 8 | NO. 21 | Saturday, May 16, 2015
Editorial: Overton Square History Tells Story of Aspirations
It’s easy to forget when you see all of the smiling faces in the old photos. They don’t seem to have a care in the world.
But Memphis was far from perfect when Overton Square opened for business in 1970.
The four young founders – the oldest were just 25 – tapped into the long-held yearning of young locals to remake Memphis as a more cosmopolitan place like what they had heard was happening in New York or San Francisco.
Memphians, then and now, are incapable of copying anything without putting a distinct, indescribable Memphis thumbprint on it. So what emerged in Overton Square was a youthful aspiration based on an idea of what life was like in a “better” place – a place that didn’t really exist, at least in Manhattan, where the lone TGI Friday’s was.
These days, it’s hard to imagine how that kind of vision could be sustained, especially when the reality of these distant, “better” places is so accessible to swiftly pop a visionary’s balloons.
So before somebody starts writing about the good old days when Memphis was the cleanest city in the world, everybody left their doors unlocked and nobody ever ran out on a bar bill, we should acknowledge that Overton Square’s origins were a sign of the times.
And its success, then and now, is a function of changing with the times.
Yes, Lafayette’s is back – with different offerings, and hopefully for a longer stay than its original run. Perhaps retail also will see more success this time around. And a fifth arts entity may be joining the thriving theater district where there was originally just one.
A 20-ounce sirloin steak for under $6 makes a strong economic case for the pull of nostalgia. But if you look closely enough at your memories of Overton Square, we are sure you will find more than building dimensions, architecture and menus.
There will be the people you knew and those who were just passing by. And don’t forget the ones you didn’t know were there until you compared notes years later.
There will be the buzz of greetings and introductions, small talk in a loud voice and big secrets told in a whisper.
Who we were then doesn’t have to be reconciled with who we are now in such instances.
Divide the difference by who you still are beneath the changes, and changes are good you’ll spot someone familiar in a city that continues to aspire.