By Deborah Rose

I have fond childhood memories of growing up in New Milford and visiting the village center.

Today, my children are forging their own memories out and about the picturesque downtown.

The village center has evolved in many ways since my youth, thanks in part to the revitalization project of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

But it also remains much the same. It is flourishing with shops and businesses.

The majority of storefronts are filled, parking spaces are often hard to come by, longtime businesses are intact and new businesses continue to sprout.

In the late 1970s-80s, Lawson's, at the corner of Main and Bridge streets, was the place to go for ice cream.

We can take our pick of spots for desserts and sweet treats today: Tasty Waves Frozen Yogurt Café on Main Street, Sugar Hoot Bake Shop on Bank Street and The Sweet Spot on Railroad Street.

On Main Street, I remember shopping for shoes at Markoff's, then housed in what is now part of the post office; patronizing the Army Navy store, which was situated in the now former CVS storefront; and shopping at Barton's, formerly housed in the building now home to several businesses, anchored by La Piccolina.

On Bank Street, the Bank Street Theater was the place to go to see the latest movies, like "E.T.," "Annie," "Crocodile Dundee" and "Police Academy."

The 31 Bank Street restaurant, housed in space now home to Salsa and Good Works Insurance, offered fine fare; Voyager Travel, housed in today's William Raveis office, helped clients make travel arrangements; and Hart's 5 & 10, now the home of Spruce Home & Garden, sold just about anything and everything.

The iconic bandstand and tank on the Green were favorites in my childhood. Rare is the child who hasn't run up and down the bandstand steps or asked their parents if they could climb the tank.

These days, my kids are making memories downtown seeing the latest flicks at Bank Street Theater, which has undergone renovations in recent years, including the addition of a fourth theater; shopping for toys at Nordica and Play on Main and Bank streets, respectively; eating at the many restaurants; and borrowing items from the library.

There was no such place as the Village Center for the Arts when I was a child, but today children can express themselves artistically in classes, camps and at birthday parties, like the one we recently had there for our son.

Dance studios have called the village center home before, including the studio housed in the former CVS building during my childhood.

Today, FineLine Theater Arts on Railroad Street and Studio D on Main Street are anchors for the fine arts, each offering quality programs and classes.

FineLine's owners and directors, Scott Wise and Elizabeth Parkinson, recently invested even more in downtown New Milford. They purchased the former Connecticut Memories building at 77 Railroad St., renovated the space and will soon move some of their offerings a few storefronts along the street, where they've been for seven years, to the new home.

Over the years, the village center has continued to attract new businesses. Town officials, business advocates and professionals and the general public care about the town.

Take entrepreneur Gary Goldring, who owns several downtown buildings and has invested more than $7 million to renovate and restore his buildings, ultimately making the properties more attractive for businesses.

His efforts recently enhanced the building at 27 Main St., which houses La Piccolina and others, and 2 Bank St. (a longtime pharmacy site), which now boasts the addition of a clock tower (that'll come in handy while teaching our kids how to tell time).

We've said goodbye to some longtime businesses, like The Good Sport on Bank Street and the Slone Pharmacy.

Yet other businesses, like Lady Grey Gourmet Café and Sweet Sarah on Bank Street, and O'Connor's Public House on Railroad Street, have opened -- or expanded, as in the case of Natural Marketplace, LLC.

Take your pick. The village center is active with business.

Town offices, flower shops, financial and insurance companies, hair salons and barber shops, jewelers, a coffee house, doctors, attorneys, real estate agents, medical offices, dry cleaners, restaurants, a wine boutique, a funeral home, a pet boutique, banks, nonprofits, churches, a hardware store, health agencies, a gathering place for youth, a hospitality house, bed and breakfasts, health studios (yoga etc.), a hospital, a catering company, a Laundromat, a tax preparation firm, the town's only post office, New Milford Parks & Recreation, a senior center, the local Chamber of Commerce, our Spectrum/News-Times newspaper office and others all call the village center home.

Chances are, I'll catch you making memories downtown real soon!