Today’s Southern Illinois University students frequent Hangar 9 and Pagliai’s Pizza on the Carbondale strip, just as their parents and possibly their grandparents did in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The two iconic businesses, as well as burger joint Fat Patties, another downtown Carbondale fixture, are for sale.

With political turmoil on campus continuing and a significant enrollment drop over the years, the news of these iconic businesses on an iconic main drag being for sale can feel deflating. But, it’s important to keep things in perspective.

First, the businesses aren’t completely closing — they are for sale. Fat Patties is currently closed, but the other two are open.

Hangar 9 owner Sally Carter wants to retire after running the bar for decades. Pag’s recently celebrated 50 years in business, and its owner Melissa Parsons said she cares for her employees and patrons too much to sell to just anyone. Lance Jack, the owner of Fat Patties, told The Southern he’s ready for the next chapter in his life.

Second, the three businesses are still popular among students and Carbondale residents. All three represent good business opportunities for the entrepreneurially inclined. It is perfectly reasonable to assume there are business people in the community who will keep these Carbondale fixtures alive, especially with the refurbishing the city of Carbondale recently completed.

Keeping Pagliai’s, Hangar 9 and Fat Patties alive will mean a lot to the revitalization of downtown.

There was a time many years ago, when Pagliai’s first opened, that the Carbondale strip was constantly crowded with students and residents. There were restaurants and bars up and down the street, the Varsity Theater was showing first-run movies and music could be heard blaring from several venues.

Carbondale’s nightlife was just what you’d expect from a college town.

Granted, the last couple of decades haven’t been kind to the Strip.

The Varsity closed its doors. Several restaurants and bars closed their doors, the Amtrak station began showing its age and infrastructure began to crumble. The street that once bustled from the Grand Avenue to Illinois 13 grew darker and quieter.

But, the city of Carbondale has cleaned up its act, and many businesses on the Strip have continued to entertain students and residents alike through changes at the university and in the town that haven’t always been positive. The landscape of the university and Carbondale changed dramatically as the 2000s unfolded. But the three businesses that are for sale now — Hangar 9, Pag’s and Fat Patties — have served thousands in those years.

In the last couple of years, the downtown streetscape plan has made sidewalks wider and safer, improved lighting and planted flowers and trees where once litter rolled along the curb. The Varsity reopened and renovated, and has reinvented itself as an entertainment venue, offering up art showings, film screenings and unique musical experiences. There are plans in place for a new bus/train station (assuming the city can get the funding for it).

The Evolve apartment complex opened on the south end of the strip within the last few years, injecting people directly into the entertainment district.

Despite the news that Pagliai’s, Hangar 9 and Fat Patties are for sale, the Strip seems poised to make a resurgence. As a generation of business owners prepares to retire, there is a wealth of opportunity for a changing of the guard — a younger generation could inject new ideas and energy into an evolving entertainment and dining scene. New restaurants on the Strip, like the Underground, Keeper’s Quarters and Meo Myo Café, as well as younger management of staple Strip dive bar PK’s, are already ushering excitement and diversity into the city’s main drag.

Both Carbondale and Southern Illinois University need the strip to be an attractive venue for students, for Carbondale residents and for young men and women from Murphysboro to Harrisburg and Pinckneyville to Anna.

“I’ve been part of trying to make downtown Carbondale the type of downtown where you can wander from one end to the other and have numerous (experiences) along the way,” Lance Jack said. “I would just like to see us working toward making it a walkable, livable, enjoyable downtown.”

While SIU’s enrollment is not as large as it was a couple decades ago, the university still brings thousands of students to Carbondale every year. Those students aren’t going to spend their SIU careers sitting in their dorm rooms.

Vibrant businesses, entertainment and businesses will continue to bring them downtown.

The owners of Pagliai’s, Hangar 9 and Fat Patties all expressed the hope that their businesses will stay alive and play vital roles in the revitalization of the Strip. That has to be the hope of everyone who has ever eaten a pizza, a sizzling burger or enjoyed a cold brew at these three locations.

The Strip has undergone changes before. It will again. This is an opportunity to forge a new future for Carbondale, not a last gasp.

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