If you are able-bodied and independent, you walk easily on most sidewalks and enter/exit stores without problems, other than the occasional surprise of a very heavy door or pushing/pulling when you should be doing the opposite. Cobblestones, bricks, steps, small doors – none of these bother you. Some stores might have small aisles, but other than it being cumbersome at times, it doesn’t slow you down too much. At least that is how I moved about my city – with ease.
Yet, over the past 4+ months, I have navigated the sidewalks and stores of Burlington, VT with a stroller. Suddenly, I gave thought to the condition of the sidewalks, the types of entrances, and the width of aisles. Frankly, the sidewalks of Burlington are horrendous if you are on wheels. Stores are a mixed bag of accessibility. I have plenty of appreciation for stores that are stroller friendly and plenty of empathy for anyone attempting to get around with a stroller or in a wheelchair.
Generally when you pushing a stroller, people are very kind and will hold open the doors for you. And you learn the turning radius and proper spatial distance needed for your stroller. You get better at avoiding sidewalk bumps because you don’t want to wake the sleeping baby, nor jostle her fragile head. You know which streets are best to take. And the list goes on.
(The building block above would be easy to make accessible.)
However, there are some limitations with a stroller, and I would imagine with a wheelchair. I spend a fair amount of time stroller walking. Depending on weather, I might pop in and out of stores to browse or run errands. While Christmas shopping, I realized that I could not take my baby into a few of my favorite shops because there were not accessible entrances (read: only steps, no ramps). Sometimes entrances are elsewhere in buildings, but if there is no sign, that does not help, as I cannot leave the stroller on the sidewalk to go in and inquire. Additionally, some stores have accessible entrances yet the aisles or displays are so close together that even my narrow stroller has a tough time navigating between everything.
(It’s hard to see in this photo, but my favorite building block has a few stores without accessible (or at least obviously found) entrances.)
I wondered about how many people face this challenge. Is the percentage of lost customers so small that it doesn’t affect the businesses? What if you’re in a wheelchair, what do you do?
Most businesses have modified their entrances to accommodate all customers. Unfortunately, this often replaces character defining features of historic entrances, or obscures them. The National Park Service Brief 11: Rehabilitating Historic Storefronts discusses the importance of entrances and their rehabilitation, but its only suggestions for access issues are as follows:
Alterations to a storefront called for by public safety, handicapped access, and fire codes can be difficult design problems in historic buildings. Negotiations can be undertaken with appropriate officials to ensure that all applicable codes are being met while maintaining the historic character of the original construction materials and features. If, for instance, doors opening inward must be changed, rather than replace them with new doors, it may be possible to reverse the hinges and stops so that they will swing outward.
(How would you make the above entrance accessible?)
It makes sense that this would be a case-by-case basis discussion; however, I think we need a collection of good examples. And a discussion. What are the challenges to improve entrance accessibility? Are small businesses at risk of losing business if they cannot improve accessibility? Does this affect you? As historic preservationists, how can we find the balance between character defining entrances and not limiting accessibility? What haven’t you considered in your environment until you had to consider it?
Traveling down (or up) I-95, you cannot miss the South of the Border billboards. At one point there were 250 billboards from New Jersey to Florida! These signs tell you that you’ll find souvenir shops, food, lodging, amusements, and fireworks at this roadside rest stop. Kitschy Americana or useful rest area? You be the judge. Before you decide – do you know the history of South of the Border?
In 1949, Alan Schafer, who owned a distributing company, opened the South of the Border Beer Depot in Hamer, South Carolina. This small cinder block building sat just over the Robeson County, North Carolina border, which was then a dry county. Within a few years, Schafer added a motel and dropped “Beer Depot” from the name. Schafer decided to outfit South of the Border with a Mexican theme and over the next decade it grew to 300 acres and included a motel, gas station, campground, restaurant, post office, drugstore, and other shops. (Read more about the South of the Border in this article.)
What about those billboards? While a number of billboards have faded, some have been updated in the past few years (to include South of the Border’s Instagram account, for example, @sobpedro). It seemed to me that a lot of the obviously questionable (some racist) billboards had been removed. Had they? According to this 1997 article, the Mexican Embassy complained, in 1993, about the “Mexican speak” billboards and other advertising materials. Eventually Alan Schafer agreed to take down the billboards, though it took a few years. For that reason, you will no longer see them on I-95. Some people have documented them. See D.W. Morrison’s website for the billboards. Good news, the billboards that remain are still quite entertaining! I laughed at quite a few.
If you’re a regular Preservation in Pink reader, you know that I cannot resist a corny joke or roadside America (and thus, I cannot resist South of the Border). And I love to share roadside America with the ones I love. On our family’s recent trek from Florida to Vermont, we stopped at South of the Border. After all, we had to introduce the baby flamingo to some crazy flamingo ways. We posed with a flamingo statue and a large concrete Pedro statue. She was unimpressed. Since she’s an infant, I assume she’ll grow to love it like her mama. (Fingers crossed.)
As we drove around, we found South of the Border surprisingly busy, yet still maintaining its eerily-sort-of-rundown vibe. The amusement park is shuttered. We couldn’t decide if one of the motels was open. The restrooms were clean. The worst part is that South of the Border sits on either side of US Highway 301, and lacks adequate pedestrian crossings or sidewalks, so it’s a nightmare attempting to cross. Hold your children and look both ways!
And now my favorite part. On our drive-about, much to my surprise, we found an old playground behind one of the motels. I’ve been to South of the Border a few times, and have never spotted this before. I had to get out and snap a photographs, of course.
Most, if not all, of the playground equipment is Game Time, Inc. equipment and remains in good condition. This equipment dates from the 1970s. Here is a tour of the playground.
Good stuff, right? Hopefully some kids still play on the playground. A bit of Google searching led me to find images of an abandoned hotel & playground near South of the Border. Comments lead me to believe it no longer exists, but it used to be a part of the Family Inn. It looks straight of a 1970s Miracle Recreation Equipment Company catalog to me. Check it out. And remember, if you come across an old (historic?) playground, snap a few photos and send them my way. I love old playgrounds!