The Death of Small Town America

It’s happening all across the United States, I get to see it up close and personal in my own hometown where I grew up. 

So, this past weekend I was up in the WHN homeland.  Aroostook County Maine.  The northern most county of Maine, and actually one of the largest counties (in land mass) in the United States.  Anyhoo, my home town has this yearly festival.  There’s a parade, music, vendors, you know, the usual thing.  It’s just a scant little town of probably just over 1000 people.  If you blinked while you were driving through it, you’d miss it.  Anyway, this event is one that everyone always looks forward to and has been a tradition for years.  It’s when people like myself who’ve grown up and away from the County come back with their kids to visit.  It is the one time a year this sleepy little town comes alive.

But, this was probably the last year.  The budget for the event has pretty much dried up as the economic slowdown and rising gas prices have eaten into the budget.  And, I’m quite sure this scenario is playing out in little towns all across America.  Little traditions like this in jeopardy as revenues evaporate.  The problem is, these sorts of events serve as a vital part of a small town’s identity.  When you take these celebrations away, a certain amount of town pride is lost, and so the town suffers. 

It’s bad enough that many families in these towns are on a knife’s edge.  They are all a pink slip away from ruin.  And now for them to lose this one little distraction that they can look forward to each year, it’s sort of like someone taking the knife that is sticking in their gut, and giving it a quick twist.  Now, my town is taking up a collection.  Asking for donations so that the August Festival may continue, but how many will be able to give?  And will it be enough?  And how long can it be sustained?

Of course no one really knows.  No one seems to really know what’s going to happen.  And for sure, people in Big City America are struggling as well.  But in Big City America, you have more resources, more opportunities within a more concentrated area.  In Small Town America, it is more difficult, especially if your Small Town is in an isolated, far removed corner of the nation.  There are few options to take, few routes to travel.  Despair can set in quickly, and it can suffocate. 

With any luck, this economic slowdown will do a 180 and start heading for calmer waters.  And with any luck, its wake will send ripples of prosperity back into these little towns, as often they are the last to benefit from economic turnarounds.  And with any luck, my little town’s festival, and all like it, will find a way to survive.  So while the bills come in, the bill collectors call, and the stress builds, there will at least be that one little thing to look forward to each year.  Everyone needs something to look forward to. 

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