The New York Times this weekend featured a beautifully-written column about the demise of a community centerpiece in Big Stone Gap, VA. The Mutual Drug Cafeteria has been more than just a place to fill a prescription, pick up a few items and grab a bite to eat – it's been a much-beloved gathering place for the community for decades. And now, like many small-town locally-owned businesses, it's being sold to a chain pharmacy. We know that small business owners are key as we work to build economic resiliency in Appalachia – but how often are we spending our money there? Here's an excerpt, but be sure to read the whole piece over at the New York Times:
I had hoped my children would have memories of the Mutual, that they would have studied the old pictures on the wall and learned about community while eating lunch in those brown booths. Memories aren’t made in superstores with their beeping and bar codes, with their automatic doors and drive-through windows. As the town inches toward homogenization, it loses a little more of its history, language, architecture….
There is wishful chatter about somebody opening the Mutual again, a cafe in the space where people can come together, where tourists can eat a piece of pie and see the fog rising from the river like spirits against the backdrop of ancient mountains. They could step over to a new tourist center, they dream, where they will get directions to landmarks like our museums and recreational trails….
There is potential in our rural community and those nearby for landmarks to be renovated and reopened, and crumbling buildings replaced with gardens, spaces for farmers’ markets and theaters. If towns want to thrive again, they have to focus on preserving and promoting their signature attractions. Small businesses like the Mutual must be part of that plan to draw people back.
After all, no one ever takes a road trip to see a CVS or McDonald’s.
We must make an agreement to support our small businesses and make the hope of saving our towns a reality.
Photo of Big Stone Gap sign by Flickr user jimmywayne, used under Creative Commons license.