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TUPPER: Downtown Mitchell needs sidewalk wine service -- really

Seth Tupper

I had no idea Mel Olson was such a hipster.

Monday night, the cerebral Mitchell City Council member made a pop-culture reference that probably sailed over the heads of some people in attendance at City Hall and others watching on local cable television.

During an hour-long debate over an ordinance to allow wine consumption on sidewalks adjacent to restaurants downtown, Olson said he wished Seth Meyers was there for an edition of "Really!?!"

If you didn't understand the reference, allow me to explain. Seth Meyers is the host of "Weekend Update," the mock news segment of "Saturday Night Live." One of Meyers' recurring bits is "Really!?!," in which he hilariously employs sarcasm and feigned incredulity to lampoon the news and the people who make it.

In a recent episode, Meyers referenced the IRS' targeting of tea party groups and President Barack Obama's response to the controversy.

"And, really, Obama, you said you heard about this scandal when you saw it on TV? You found out from TV? Really!?! I don't want to live in a world where you have the same sources as my aunt."

It's probably not as funny in print as it is on live TV, but you get the point.

Olson did his best Meyers impersonation while arguing against sidewalk wine service.

"Really!?!" Olson exclaimed with as much exasperation as he could muster. "It's come to this? Really!?!"

Olson went on to say he doesn't believe our downtown is so downtrodden that it needs sidewalk wine service to save it, and if it is, that's a sad development for Mitchell. He thinks allowing sidewalk wine service is an expansion of alcohol availability in Mitchell, and he opposes that.

I think Olson is a fine public servant, and I enjoy the passion and wit he brings to bear on public issues. But I think he's wrong on this one. So do a majority of his colleagues on the council, who passed the ordinance 5-2.

Nobody directly responded to Olson's question/exclamation Monday night, so I will. In fact, I'll use a pop-culture reference of my own, this one from the movie "Shrek":

"Really really."

Yes, Councilman Olson, it most certainly has come to this. It came to this many, many years ago.

I don't know what downtown you've been observing, but the one I see is in trouble.

At least four buildings in the downtown district have been destroyed by fire since 2001. Recently, a massive chunk of stone fell from a vacant downtown building onto a sidewalk. As I write this, a building at the south end of downtown is being demolished, and its unstable, shared wall with a neighboring building could result in a second demolition. Elsewhere downtown, there are upper floors that have been empty so long, they still bear the signage of businesses that moved out 50 years ago.

There are some hopeful places downtown -- coffee shops, restaurants, clothing stores and other niche businesses and offices, new and old -- that provide a glimpse into a brighter future. The brave small businesspeople who own and operate those shops are fighting to keep our downtown alive, but the fight isn't fair. They're struggling against decades of business outmigration and ancient, money-trap buildings that need far more care than the revenue from a little niche shop can provide.

Will sidewalk wine service save our downtown? No. But it certainly could be a helpful part of a broader effort. Our historic downtown structures and downtown merchants need every bit of help they can get, including the option of allowing adults to responsibly consume an alcoholic beverage at a sidewalk table on a pleasant evening.

The alternative is doing nothing, rejecting progressive ideas, and allowing our downtown district to crumble and burn.

Is that what you want? Really!?!