Small Town, America: Can it survive?

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 Small Town, America: Can it survive?

Traveling down the coast in the state of Oregon, I am always struck by the busy-ness of some towns over others.  Some appear small, stifled, without activity.  Some seem so busy and active.

That made me consider several things.  Is part of it by choice?  Is a community able to choose to lessen tourism and growth?  Can it survive that way?   If tourism is what makes a town busy and active, is that the best thing?  And how does the city do off season?What is successful anyway?  To me it isn’t crowds of people.  Sure it’s good to have tourism but the times when there are few tourists is appreciated too. I think success has to be measured in off seasons.  Thankfully in Oregon, as in many states, year round there will be some tourism.  Between fishing, hunting, the beauty of the state, the stunning beaches, the state parks, no matter what season there are unique reasons to visit.  But of course, the summer, with our cooler coastal temps along with school vacations, will always be the busiest.

Does a city’s design make a difference?

Even the layout of the city appears to have an impact.  In a concentrated downtown area, when one can walk the entire area over a few square blocks, you see much more foot traffic.  That alone encourages more people to stop and do the same.  If you have a town with stores and shops spread out far and wide, in some cases off the main highway, travelers might stop at one place yet miss many others.

Without naming towns, in one that I visited in the entire downtown I saw only one empty store.  It was a concentrated area, not a long spread out highway. That’s so encouraging.  Contrast that to another town with a downtown  that stretches a few miles, and I found nearly a dozen vacant properties.  Whether that is because of layout or other reasons I’m not certain, but it surely makes me wonder.

Proximity to a larger town might have an impact as well.  More people close by to the smaller town offers more visitors.

Is a big box store good or bad?

Does a big box store contribute to it or detract?  A store like Fred Meyer, Target or Walmart may bring good things to a community, from jobs to lower prices.  Conversely, it means less shoppers at the smaller local businesses.

Seeing so many stores close their doors, even department stores that used to thrive in a smaller scale is probably worthy of another entire article.  Lately the closures seem to affect major stores and small boutiques alike.  In small towns often little shops don’t succeed.  How much is due to big box store and how much is because of incorrect demographics?

There is a pull that is created between wanting to shop locally to support small businesses, yet finding often lower prices in a big box store.  Many in these small towns are living on lower incomes, whether retired or not.  If it is a retirement community, with a larger percentage of seniors you often find them going out less often, shopping less often, less interested in accumulating good.

Will travelers take the time?

Even the traveler’s mind can make a difference I suppose.  Traveling up or down Highway 101 through Oregon, it seems a much slower, more relaxed pace.  But in our normally rushing economy, how many travelers take the time to  venture off the main highway?  If they don’t what they see is not always the best of the area.  You’d miss the beach at Bandon.  You’d miss most of the Harbor, Harris Beach, the long stretches of beach in Brookings. You’d also miss some of the most popular restaurants and shops.

That reminds me of franchises that say the three most important considerations for a new store are location, location location.I wish I had a solution.  It all gives me more to think about. It makes me wonder if some towns are doomed to failure.  Or perhaps that is too extreme.  Not necessarily failure, but stagnancy.  I don’t necessarily think that is wrong, if it is sustainable. Is that what some want? I can relate to wanting to keep a small town small.  Will  they maintain and continue without more influx or people and dollars?  With rising costs of everything from utilities to property to the employee base, are higher taxes the only answer?  Clearly more research is needed to know the answers.  I’d love to know your thoughts too.

Author: Merry

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  1. My small town (pop 3500) is definitely struggling. Too isolated for much tourism, but I’m not sure I would want a lot of that anyway. I want to see the streets filled with mostly local people spending their time and money supporting local merchants and socializing in our historic downtown area. But the merchants are struggling and often it’s not just the prices, they don’t have the goods. We can’t even buy sox and undies for the kids here. There will be a new small store opening soon carrying basic needs and I hope the people support them. We will soon have a Super Walmart 45 minutes away. That will be quite a draw out of town for many folks.
    Lots of people are working to bringin tourism … I would like to see more support for local merchants, some small manufacturing (not all our eggs in one basket) small farms selling local produce, maybe some ag related tourism, and yes, if it helps …. bring some tourism, if we must. We also need to appeal more to young entrepreneurs with a virbrant downtown with coffee shops open later, gathering spots, walkability and some shared officde spaces available.

    How to make all that happen … sot sure. Would it work …. not sure. But one thing a big city can’t be is a small town, we don’t want to lose our small towns.

    • Thanks so much Lila, for your thoughtful comments. It is hard to balance isn’t it? It is surprising there is not already a little store for the basics, as you said, but harder still for a small business owner if they don’t get enough business. It’s a tough situation that we can see so many places.

      I love my little town, and partially because it is small!

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