2017-02-15 / Editorial

BIGGER THAN SMALL

Don Lively

Something was wrong.

Something was missing when I walked down the street of my beloved hometown, the same town that, in my real job, I'm tasked with promoting the downtown by bringing in new businesses and by supporting the existing ones.

It didn't take long to figure out what had changed.

The barber pole from Mr. Johnson's Barber Shop, the same spiraling, red and white striped glass sign post that has adorned the building since I was a kid, getting fifty cent haircuts, had been removed.

Gone.

I was aware that Mr. Johnson, after decades of cutting hair on our town's main drag, had recently retired and closed his shop. And, I was also aware, as happens in small towns with limited space, that the few square feet the barber shop had resided in for so long, would be extremely sought after real estate. That's just good business sense.

But, I had hoped that I'd have time to negotiate with whoever owned the barber pole to try to obtain it for an honored place in a proposed community theater/ museum that my close cronies and I are planning.

Now, it was gone.

So, not being one to give up easily, I started asking around.

I began with the restaurant right next door to the barber shop. Nobody knew what had happened to the pole, but two people told me to ask "Debbie", who is a frequent diner with her husband. Then I went to the bank, the actual owner of the building where the barber shop was. Nobody knew who took the pole down, but, again, I was directed to contact Debbie.

The same thing happened when I inquired at a store across the street.

And, at another restaurant at the other end of the block.

Ask Debbie.

That's how things work in small towns.

Not everybody has all the answers, but, somebody always knows who to ask.

I'm not sure I could rely on that kind of information networking were I still living in the metropolis that Denver has become.

Just one more reason that I am happy to be home again.

Mark Twain once said it this way:

"Human nature cannot be studied in (big) cities except at a disadvantage. A village (small town) is the place. There you can know your man inside and out. In a (big) city you but know his crust; and his crust is usually a lie."

Truer words were never spoken.

It's no secret that, all over America, over the past fifty years, small towns began to die. People were more prone to drive good distances to shop in cookie cutter malls that sprung up all over the country, or, they'd go to the big "box stores" where, theoretically, they could do all their shopping under one roof.

Locally owned, mom-andpop shops and unique dry good stores, front street hardware stores and cafes, all slowly lost business and eventually shuttered their doors.

But, then, something happened.

Attitudes changed and people began to long for the days when they could buy quality products in their own hometowns.

More and more young people decided to make their lives in the towns and counties where they grew up.

In short, folks came home.

People who study such trends call it a revival.

I call it a blessing.

In my little small town, just over the past few years, I've seen a number of young women, mostly home grown, with not much more than big ideas and scads of ambition and energy, turn once empty storefronts or dying businesses into thriving shops and eateries.

I've seen young men form partnerships and begin landscape companies and used car lots and cafes. Many of them had no business experience prior to jumping in with both feet and their success is due in large part to being hardheaded Southern alpha males who never let the thought of failure enter their minds.

Small town men and women are doing the same thing all over the Blessed South.

Yes, a blessing.

Our town is coming back.

A new friend dropped by my office last week. We spent the first twenty minutes trying to discover a family link. We didn't find one. At least not yet. The friend is also interested in starting a new business downtown, so, we discussed the plans at length for about an hour. As my friend got up to leave, I asked if they knew anything about the missing barber pole. I got exactly the answer I expected.

"You should ask Debbie."

Indeed, I will.

I love our small town.

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