Since 2005, the Midtown Alliance has been busy promoting the “Midtown Mile” which encompasses Peachtree Street from North Avenue to 15th Street. Although the Great Recession slowed down its implementation, the desire remains for Atlanta’s own version of Madison Avenue, centered on signature retail that exploits the area’s lucrative yuppie demographic. Whether or not this materialist dream comes true is anyone’s guess, but if it does one thing’s for sure: Midtown’s hippie past will be rolling in its grave.
See, forty years ago the archetypal Midtowner was straight out of “Hair,” as fully documented by the gentle folks over at the Strip Project. (Yes, this is another Atlanta nostalgia website blurb. We’re shameless). There is perhaps no greater repository of information related to this psychedelic chapter in Midtown’s history, and the section devoted to the Strip, the nickname for Peachtree Street from about 5th to 14th Streets, is especially ironic given the lofty vision for the “Mile.”
At the Strip’s height around 1968, the sidewalks were constantly packed with a bevy of flower children, runaways, and other societal expats. Tour buses and suburbanites crowded Peachtree Street for a chance to gawk at the colorful cast of outcasts. A host of business catered to the various needs of these far out consumers: cheap places to eat; head shops at which to stock up on “supplies”; clothing stores hawking the latest in leather sandles and bell bottoms; and venues where rock bands and drag queens alike took to stage.
Things were relatively peaceful for a few golden years, until the appearance of harder drugs and the petering out of the hippie movement signaled decline. Midtown became a rougher place before gentrification took hold and made the neighborhood into what many consider Atlanta’s best bet for true urban living. So the next time you’re agonizing over fabric swatches at CB2 or noshing on delectables at Empire State South, take a second to consider the more anti-establishment sentiments that once held sway over the nabe. It might just have you humming Alanis Morissette.