Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Small Towns

Is Small the new Big?

The other evening, we were in downtown Salisbury, a small town near our small town of Concord. We noted, gasp, people walking in the downtown area . . . after 6:00 PM. We came out of the local community playhouse, after an enjoyable performance, and we went into a wine bar—blues café next door. We saw, again, gasp, people seated at tables, sipping a glass of wine and listening to a live blues singer-guitarist. And this was, mind you, nearing 10:00 PM, when all good local small town folks are supposed to be safely tucked in their Wal-Mart-inspired bedrooms.

The next day, we were on our regular 4.5 mile walk, and as we entered our downtown Concord’s main street, we went into the local Chocolatiere shoppe. Yep, right there in downtown Concord, we have a shopkeeper who hails from France and who makes fantastic chocolate desserts, and who is, by his own standards, doing fine in terms of his business.

Our local Italian restaurant across the street, Gianni’s, hosted a wine pairing dinner last week—pairing each of seven courses with a compatible wine. Think of that, a wine pairing dinner, accompanying Italian cuisine worthy of Manhattan, right here in our small town of Concord, a town previously noted for being boxed in by, not one, but two Wal-Mart’s. And Gianni’s is also doing fine, despite the economy and the normal winter doldrums.

If you think you might need to visit Asheville so you can buy a truly unique gift for someone close, hold on, we have a small, local unique gift shop in our small town of Concord. Little Feather bills itself as "the shop that means you don't have to visit Asheville". Little Feather is also holding its own in our current depression. You can't buy its gift items at Wal-Marts.

On many Saturdays, we also go to a Farmers' Market In Charlotte, where we buy meat, eggs and other food products from local, "Slow-Food" activist farmers. We buy beef, pork, chickens, goat, ostrich, local green vegetables, and other products directly from people who actually grow and produce these products. None of the people have large, industrial farms. Nope, they're all small farmers who farm using sensible and largely organic approaches. Their products are not available at Wal-Marts.

Conversely, my wife and I were at one of our many mall shopping centers, and we noted the closed shops there—not one, but many. The economic depression, brought on Bush and his greedy banker friends, has begun biting large corporate America in the ass.

Makes me wonder about the possibilities of small town regeneration. Maybe, if we really could tune out Fox News and all that TV noise, and begin reading books again, we could return to that yesteryear, when small towns were mostly all that we had, and local folks actually shopped at small, local shops, attended small, local restaurants, and enjoyed the aspects that make small towns each a unique cultural experience. The homogenization of America as propagated by large malls, super-size-me fast food franchises, and Made in China Wal-Mart crap products might actually be reversed.

A small town might actually exist near you, if you look. Go ahead, look, the shops won’t bite you. They might even surprise you. You might get to like life in a small town again.

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