Julie Seedorf: What makes a community successful?

Published 8:30 pm Sunday, July 15, 2018

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf


Driving around the countryside gives me too much time to ponder the issues. This column will be split into two weeks since I am so opinionated on the subject of small communities and what makes them successful or makes them die. I am just one opinion but this is an observation that may or may not be true. Plato said, “Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.” You can decide which one applies to me.

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As a teenager eons ago, shopping malls were starting to become the “it” place. Where better to go when you were Christmas shopping and it was cold outside? Everything you could ever want, almost, was housed under one roof.

We could shop for a time, have lunch, attend a movie, continue our shopping and then go out to a covered parking ramp to our vehicles. What more could we want?

Unfortunately, our love of malls contributed to the demise of Main Street USA. Now, malls are in danger of shutting down and becoming empty. Shopping online is being blamed for the demise of shopping malls.

However I have noticed another trend taking place. Main streets in small communities are coming alive again. The communities that have recognized shopping in 2018 has changed and downtown small community USA has to change, are revitalizing their business and streets and buildings.

I do know a little about having a business on Main Street. My experience was from the ’50s and ’60s, yet some of that knowledge could still be applied today. My parents owned a successful shoe business for 30 years until their retirement. I will say that a business model like theirs could not survive in 2018. It maybe would be successful as a smaller version with a unique inventory. When they had their business they carried the lower-priced to the higher-priced shoes for the entire family. It was a time when we didn’t shop so much out of town, and it was catalogs instead of online, so it could survive. They also had competition from another shoe store in town.

This past week we took a trip to Iowa. Yes, Iowa! I found it interesting when we visited the District, a new part of Ankeny. It is home to retail boutiques, dining and entertainment. I was enthralled when we visited a restaurant there. I felt as if I were back in small-town America. It was a new main street community in the midst of shopping malls and strip malls. And it was bustling with business. I asked a few people about it later as we were in different parts of the city and everyone loved the small-town feel.

Driving back to Minnesota we took the back roads instead of the interstate. We visited Iowa communities the same size as the town in which I live. They had cute main streets, the buildings were occupied and well preserved and taken care of, and the parking places were full. The towns seemed to have found the answer to pulling people into the community.

I thought about that when I returned home. I contemplated how often I have been asked if I visited different Iowa communities for fun and shopping. I know many Minnesotans who cross the border for the experience of visiting and enjoying what shops these towns have to offer. Not only do they offer a unique shopping experience but they also offer good food and friendly people.

A couple of weeks ago I visited New Richland. It was a visit to the dentist, but as I parked under a tree in front of Main Street Dental I also took notice of how the community has changed since I lived there 24 years ago. The main street is beautiful with flowers and trees. The buildings are well preserved, restored and painted to complement each other. On main street they have the post office, a bank, a restaurant, the liquor store, a bakery, the library, the food shelf building, an antique store, a hardware store, a grocery store, the newspaper office, a drugstore, a second-hand store and of course my reason for being in the community, Main Street Dental. And I might have missed a few.

In talking to the staff at Main Street Dental I was impressed not only with their skills at calming me down and taking care of my problem but at the pride they expressed in their community. That attitude certainly was reflected in the streets outside the dental office.

It was food for thought. What makes a community successful?

In next week’s column my take on what might work in small-town Minnesota to revitalize what we have.

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