Easton is on the cusp of change, but it is not entirely clear what that change is. The town is becoming more sophisticated, but at what cost? As world-class restaurants, stores, and the arts begin to flourish, will Easton become just another resort town? More simply put, should Easton become a Hamptons or Nantucket wanna-be? If so, is that a bad thing?
I am writing this column in Nantucket while looking out at Nantucket harbor. I have been taking daily walks through the historic town center. The streets are paved with cobblestones. The stores are a mixture of high-end clothing and middle-tier souvenir shops. Nantucket sweatshirts can be had for $60. Hundreds of choices for Nantucket refrigerator magnets are available.
Frankly, the downtown is more reminiscent of an historic town than an actual historic town. Dozens of old buildings, some dating to the 18th century remain standing, but now house real estate offices, restaurants, or boutique shops. The whaling museum reminds me of one of the attractions included in a mega-shopping mall to give people something to do other than shop. It’s interesting and worth a visit, but it competes with opportunities to look at multi-million-dollar yachts in the harbor.
Mind you, I’m not complaining about Nantucket, but don’t go there for the history. If you enjoy shopping and mingling with rich people, Nantucket should be on your list. The restaurants are plentiful and high quality.
The question for those of us in Talbot County, and, for that matter, the entire Eastern Shore, is whether we want to imitate the best-known east coast premier resort destinations. Easton already has started down that path. Bluepoint Hospitality has converted old, sometimes vacant storefronts into establishments that are beautiful, well-run, and expensive.
I confess to patronizing the “New Easton” and enjoying it. I am thrilled by the Prager Center for the Arts. And I’m glad that the Chesapeake Music Festival now has a home. I believe that these new establishments are good for Easton despite their representing change. They are part of a revitalization of Easton that, in my view, is good for everyone here, including those of us who are unlikely to buy anything from one of the new, premium-priced, businesses.
The remaking of Easton is part of a larger evolution of the Eastern Shore, which should be more than agriculture and beach towns. If Easton thrives because of this evolution, it means more and better jobs. It is also likely to result in better schools, improved healthcare facilities, and opportunities for growth in things like the Waterfowl Festival and other community activities to better engage us with each other.
Should there be limits on the degree to which Easton and other parts of the Eastern Shore “gentrify?” I would say yes, but I’m not sure how these limits are set. Do we want to discourage new investments and job creation?
Should Talbot County hold a special series of forums on what our future should look like? Many forums on the county’s future, of course, already happen, but perhaps something focused on the rapid changes occurring in the town of Easton might be a good idea. Among many things, such a discussion should ensure that if a future other than the current “gradual gentrification” of Easton is to be chosen, the alternative future needs to be fully understood.
I also worry about what happens to Easton if the Bluepoint Hospitality investments don’t work out. If the high-end businesses now being established fail, what will Federal Street and the rest of Easton look like? Will there be other entrepreneurs anxious to take over these businesses? I’m not sure.
What do you think? Are you worried or excited about Easton’s future?
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and occasionally goldendoodles.