Sunday was a beautiful day, so my wife and I decided to head down to Salado to do a little shopping.

We have a couple of places we usually go, but last weekend my wife wanted to check out some different shops, since we’d gotten an early start.

So we headed down Main Street, looking for some establishments we hadn’t visited in a while.

As we drove slowly down Salado’s main drag, we were shocked to find many of the stores closed and others with just a car or two parked outside.

We drove past the Salado Creek and turned onto the usually busy Royal Street.

More closed shops, more empty parking lots.

Feeling somewhat defeated, we turned around and headed back the other direction, eventually winding up at our familiar antique shop along the Interstate 35 access road.

As we got out of the car, we couldn’t help but notice the large mounds of dirt and broken concrete piled along I-35, where construction work has been going on for what seems like a decade.

We shopped for a while and scored a few nice finds, but we both remarked about how much the town had changed over the past few years.

Ten years ago, Salado was a bustling little village, especially on weekends.

When the weather was nice, it was sometimes hard to find a parking place along Main Street. Large groups of people milled up and down the street, moving from one shop to the next. Stores and restaurants were crowded and buzzing with chatter.

Whenever we stopped in this quaint little town, it was a pleasant respite, almost like a mini-vacation.

Nine years ago, my wife and I decided to plan our wedding around the village. We bought our rings at Gregory’s, a Salado jewelry store; my wife bought her wedding dress at Coccinella; she ordered her flowers from an event florist there, and we arranged to get married at the picturesque Inn at Salado. We even had our rehearsal dinner at the historic Stagecoach Inn.

The wedding was perfect — an intimate ceremony with a classical guitarist, followed by a small reception. We couldn’t have been happier with the outcome.

But now, 8½ years later, the jewelry store is closed, the dress shop is gone and even the Stagecoach Inn is closed, though it is being renovated under new ownership.

Other well-known restaurants, like The Mansion near Salado Creek, are closed as well, as is the city’s museum.

Salado just isn’t what it used to be — and that’s very sad.

To me and my wife, the village is like an old friend — one we’re always happy to visit and catch up with. Only now, our old friend has fallen on hard times. The welcoming smile has faded, the vibrant enthusiasm has waned. It’s still our old friend, but the town is showing its age.

When the road construction ends — and someday it will — perhaps the town will regain some of its energy. A project to establish sewer lines in the city also will be a boon to current businesses and help to bring in new ones.

But it’s probably going to take more than smooth roads and new sewers to bring Salado back to its former glory.

It will require a concerted effort on the part of the city’s residents, business owners and chamber of commerce to not only market the village aggressively, but to recruit the right kind of businesses that will be committed to maintaining the town’s historic charm.

For those of us fortunate to live nearby, Salado has been a welcome, well-known oasis. For first-time visitors traveling from out of the area, it was always a pleasant surprise.

But to all who know it well, Salado is truly a gem.

Let’s hope that one day soon it will shine brightly again.

Dave Miller is deputy managing editor of the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at dmiller@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7543.

Contact Dave Miller at dmiller@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7543

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