Our goal was to visit as many small towns as possible.
We were dismayed by the condition of many of the very small towns we drove through. Storefronts were boarded up. Once thriving towns were reduced to a few houses and maybe a gas station.
“Why are small towns dying?” I asked.
The recession can be blamed for some of the destruction, but the conditions of buildings indicated that towns were losing ground for many years.
Here’s the answer I came up with…
Small towns generally exist for one purpose – in farming and ranching areas, they serve the surrounding farms and ranches. In industrial areas they grow up to provide services to nearby mines, or manufacturing.
With agribusiness swallowing up small family farms, and factories and extraction industries downsizing or closing, these small towns no longer have a purpose, and they slowly disappear.
For some small towns, repurposing is the answer.
We saw a few small towns that are not going down without a fight!
Turkey, Texas is such a town.
We visited the town museum and viewed photos of the town in the 1940’s when it was hard to find a parking place.
The townspeople are anxious to bring back that prosperity. They have a favorite son whose fame is helping. Turkey Texas is the hometown of famed originator of Western Swing, Bob Wills.
Here’s what’s working for Turkey Texas
Every year over 10,000 western swing lovers converge on Turkey, Texas for two solid weeks of music and dancing. RV parks are full. Restaurants are booming. The few little shops are packed with customers.
And then everyone goes home until the next year.
…Except for a few hundred enthusiasts who return once a month for western swing music jams. But currently, people come, enjoy a dinner prepared by one of the local service organizations and leave.
These monthly events happen in the evening when little shops are not open.
How can Turkey, Texas turn these events into prosperity, and what can you learn from Turkey, Texas?
The people who come, both for the two-week festival and to the monthly music jams love Bob Wills and Turkey, Texas. They might have been asked to contribute to the future of the Bob Wills museum in town, but they have never been asked to participate in the future success of this town.
People who love to visit small towns, like to contribute to the success of the towns they visit. You can use that connection to help save your town.
- Ask your visitors to spend money locally.
- Ask them to become a part of your community by considering opening a business in town.
- Ask them to come back again soon, and give them a reason for doing so.
We loved the time we spent in Turkey, and if we lived closer, that “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?” would have made a big difference.
We loved the general store that had the best cowboy boot selection we’ve seen. We loved the little B&B, and the restaurant where we ate the same meal the cook was having when we walked in the door. Nobody asked us to come back.
Turkey, Texas and most small towns can’t survive on a single event a year. But if Turkey took full advantage of those monthly activities, and if your small town had some way to attract visitors once a month, you might.
The key is taking full advantage of the customers who are in town when they are in town.
Our Turkey, Texas general store owner wasn’t open in the evenings for the monthly events, because, as she said, “People aren’t coming to shop.”
Everyone is ready to shop if given the right incentives!!
First – be open when your customers are there. Your business hours should be set for your customer’s convenience, not yours.
Second – offer some specials. Take a page out of the K-Mart playbook and give them a “Blue Light Special” to get them in the door.
Third – know what your customers want and have it on hand. This is something the general store owner is already doing very well! Those boots, those jeans, those Bob Wills tee shirts were perfect. And with a little incentive she could be making a killing once a month!
And finally… Do the small simple things that will help your town survive NOW! Don’t wait for some pie in the sky grant. Don’t wait, hoping that things will change when the economy changes. Look at what you have to attract some visitors and new residents NOW!
It’s our time. Small towns have never had a better opportunity to turn themselves around.