Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Shop Local...If You Can

In the little village in which I live, we have two “business” districts.  I use that term loosely because for one area, there is no business to speak of, and any business that does exist in either zone is struggling mightily for its life.  There are a few brave souls who continue to try to make a go of it:  a guy who opened a shop for birders, a friend who opened a microbrew place, an intrepid hair stylist who has to stay open seven days a week to make ends meet.  This is not a town with a “big-box” store, or even a fast-food chain. It’s small, and by extension, so are the businesses.  But they are having a tough time surviving in this economy.

Enter a group who sought to “rezone” the first business district, the one closest to the highway and most accessible to our train station, a major hub on a major railroad.  Backed by the then-mayor, their idea was to take existing storefronts and modernize them with a unified fa├žade while creating mixed-use space—that is, space for retail on the bottom and apartments on the top—thereby adding to the village’s tax base.

To say that they were meant with vociferous derision and negativity is a gross understatement.  Even the mayor who approved the whole shebang is now against the plan for reasons that are still unknown to me.

We are a village of about 7,500 people and if our local political landscape is any indication of what is writ large on the national stage, we are in serious trouble.  Reports of last night’s village board meeting seem to indicate incivility, rudeness, and a general indecorousness abounding, things shouldn’t exist in a town where your mayor is also your next-door neighbor, and your trustee’s kids play Little League with your own.  Where you ride the train with another of the trustees and inquire about his or her elderly parent.  Where, adjacent to the majestic Hudson River, we should all give thanks for the beautiful vistas that surround us as we nod a greeting to those we pass on our daily walk instead of seeing the person passing us as either someone “for” or “against” whatever development the majority sees as responsible and fair for our little burg.

This debate has resulted in a lot of shouting and a lot of hard feelings.  People who love the village and want to see the best for it scream about progress but also about blighting the landscape.  It’s hard to know what’s best because there is just too much noise.  Letters to our local paper abound and in about ninety percent of them, politeness has taken a flyer.

Have the days of dialogue and reaching consensus gone the way of the landline and dial-up internet?  Is it impossible in today’s world to have a conversation with someone and see their side, even if you agree to disagree?  As someone once famously said, “can’t we all just get along?”

In books, conflict is good; without it, your story is flat, your characters not compelling at all.  Conflict is what led me to make Alison Bergeron a divorcee with a dead body in her car.  If not for that conflict, no other story could have flowed freely about her life.  Sure, she could have been happily married, but what’s the fun in that?  Having an ex-husband to act as her annoying foil made the writing, and her journey, more fun.

In real life, however, conflict is an annoyance, a nuisance.  Constantly battling with people over issues large and small results in indigestion, and ultimately, a stalemate.  Agreeing to disagree means, in the case of our little village, stagnation.  No new business for the citizens to “shop local.”  No new apartments for people to enjoy what we long-time residents have enjoyed for many years.  No new taxes to help the rest of us stave off bankruptcy in the face of rising fees.

My advice to my neighbors?  Go to the local microbrew with someone with whom you disagree and get a pint.  Discuss “progress” and “change.”  See where you stand after ingesting a sudsy brew, one that was made special for you by a homegrown girl who came back to give back to her beloved village.  Then see if you can’t reach consensus.

Tell me, Stiletto readers, what are things like where you live?  Is it hard to get one decision made in your town or city?  Is stagnation—and noise—the order of the day?

Maggie Barbieri


  1. It seems your experience is universal, as it's that way here, too. My town is 350,000 strong, but the infighting is just as loud and unruly as it is by you. Finger-pointing seems to be the rule of the day. The buck doesn't seem to stop anywhere anymore. It's always someone else's fault, or problem, or issue and there are plenty of people telling you at the top of their lungs who's fault it is not. And instead of solutions we have recriminations and people leaving public service. Where to now?

  2. My parents have stuff like this going on in their community in NC. Three years ago, they said life there was perfect. Now, they say the whole vibe is different. Sad.

  3. Zita, I think you're right...this bad behavior, the not listening, is everywhere. We have to listen in order to reach common ground. I watched footage of the meeting that I referred to in my post and it was a lesson in what not to do when in a public forum.

    Laura, same in NC? Wow. Maggie

  4. We live in a dinky unincorporated area in the foothills. Though businesses have a problem remaining open, the restaurants are hanging in there. We have 2 Mexican restaurants, 1 pizza place (cash only, no credit cards) I don't expect them to last long, a cafe that's only open for breakfast and lunch, a Hamburger stand that's been here forever, and a Chilean restaurant--tiny, but good.

    There is no tax base, but things get done by volunteers like a new park was built, the rodeo and the rodeo grounds are taken care of by volunteers.

  5. I live in a relatively small town where small businesses struggle, but many locals believe in supporting them as much as is possible. I am a regular at my local book store. If the owner of the business is halfway consumer consumer friendly, we'll work with them. That is not true for the city officials. Sadly, power is more seductive than solutions-which is true all over.

  6. Well, I'm in the (currently) best known small town in the Midwest, due to our comptroller taking off with 53 million over the last umpteen years. Yep, I live in Dixon, IL. City Council meetings are pretty heated these days, and most of the town is pretty disgusted with the leadership.