Julie Seedorf: Can struggling, small communities be fixed?

Published 8:30 pm Sunday, July 22, 2018

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf


I thought about my experiences when I shop in other communities other than in chain stores and malls. I gravitate to the well-kept stores whose buildings and displays draw me into their shop. I am kept there by the welcome and friendliness of the staff.

Email newsletter signup

What makes some small communities more successful than others? In my opinion it is attitude. In the “olden days” there was lots of competition in my small town. We had three banks, five grocery stores, three hardware stores, two shoe stores, two drug stores and many gas stations, etc. In short, there was lots of competition for business. However, if I remember right, the people that owned these businesses were friends and welcomed the competition. The business men and women all worked together to help each other out and promote the community. If someone couldn’t find something in one shop they would direct them to their competition. It worked. They knew competition was not necessarily a bad thing.

In recent years, small communities have struggled. Competition has come from outside the boundaries of the towns with big shopping malls. We are more mobile and the attitude has been that it is hopeless to think we could every have a viable business district again. Owners have not kept up the appearance of their businesses citing the cost. Empty buildings on Main Street in disrepair and old ’80s style appearances with chipped paint or leaning awnings show a lack of understanding that it shows an attitude of perhaps giving up.

Lack of competition and welcome to competing businesses are also missing. Many businesses won’t set up shop in a small community if they aren’t guaranteed that there will be no competition in that area for their business, not recognizing that competition and working together are benefits for the shopper.

Instead of worrying about who would water the flowers if they put them on Main Street, they should be wondering what they can do to make their community a shopping experience. What can they do to make it a place where the tour bus wants to stop or where they can draw in the tourists?

We can’t go back to the ’60s when it was a given locals would shop locally. We can’t rely on residents to sustain the business community anymore. And as residents, we need to take a good look at what we have, what we can promote and how we can draw others to small-town America.

I looked at my community. We have a swimming pool, golf course, three local boutiques, a museum, a veterans memorial, a grocery store, a theater, a library, five eating establishments, two service clubs, a liquor store, a drug store, a screen printing place, a coffee house, Brakebush Brothers Inc., Wells Concrete, Herman Manufacturing, a hydroponic tomato plant, a drugstore with an old fashioned soda fountain, beauty shops, churches, a school, a thrift shop, banks, two parks and there is much more.

Some of the businesses where I live have new owners, and those owners are sprucing up their buildings and they look fantastic. Now they need the business to keep it.

I have a dream — I am a dreamer. We need dreamers, and then we need people to make those dreams into reality. Can’t you see a tour bus stopping for shopping and tours of these places with some crafting time, some shopping time, some learning time, and of course, eating time?

Look at your town with fresh eyes. Pretend you are a stranger entering the community. What do they see when they walk down your main street? Do your stores say, “Come on in? How does your town promote their businesses to the outside world? Do they offer tours; do they promote it as a unique shopping community? Is it an experience? Maybe the key is to invite an outside person in to give tips and critique about what they see — a kinder Gordon Ramsay, perhaps?

I personally do not shop all that much anymore, but when I do, I try to patronize my small town shops and I always marvel at what is available. I must say they are hidden gems to the outside world. Small businesses do not have the money to promote, but yet without the promotion they cannot be successful because they cannot be sustained just by local people. What happens if all businesses work together to promote each other?

I am an author. I have lots of competition, but the one thing I have learned over the past five years is to embrace my competition and to promote them. What goes around comes around. They in turn embrace me and promote my books. My audience is their audience and vice versa. I have a feeling the same could be said for the business next door. You have heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” — well it takes a business district to raise a business.

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” — Lou Holtz

Wells resident Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Monday. Send email to her at hermionyvidaliabooks@gmail.com.