I am reading Michael E. Tolle’s book called What Killed Downtown? It is a study of how Norristown’s economy was ruined, and is quite thorough in its description. Mr. Tolle starts at the very beginning. The very beginning before Norristown was even Norristown and sets up his story with a description of the intention for the town, and as many people know, the town stood up to its intended use for many years.
I suppose the book is interesting to me because I live in the municipality and the businesses he talks about are ones that I have heard about and they were located at addresses I know and have passed many times. Some of the buildings still exist like the Tone Building, the bank building, and of course the Courthouse, among others. I am also familiar with the names of many of the people he writes about and the people who he interviewed for the book. Most interesting to me is his explanation of the workings of municipal and county government because I have been one of the many trying to determine what went wrong and how to fix it. But probably the most interesting part of the book is the answer, which I won’t go into here lest I spoil it for you. He comes to a similar conclusion, with a slightly different twist from what I have been saying all along. Even though I have not gotten through all 256 pages of the book I was too excited to find the answer to his query and read a bit of the last chapter.
I would call this book required reading for anyone who works at the municipality, or the County, or has any dealing with Norristown at all. It gives a fascinating insight to some issues which are unique to our little struggling burg. I can’t say that a silver bullet exists to help the situation but knowing from whence we came is always a key in determining where we should go. History does have a way of repeating itself and some of the actions he talks about in the book bear a striking resemblance to things that have been tried since I have lived there. I just hope that the history that repeats itself will not come out with the same result and that we can learn from our mistakes and work toward a solution to the problem rather than becoming another one.