Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Last independent standing?

Recently, the Altamont Enterprise published a piece on the state of economic vitality in the Hilltowns. We weren't surprised by the topic - Marcello has appeared at Sustainable Hilltowns meetings, and generously suggested he join me at the store for a further conversation. I think I must not have been at my most inspiring...

Some of my customers thought the article was a bit dark, but I thought it wasn't inaccurate, just hit a bit close to home for a lot of us. (Incidentally, a thank you to Rich Ronconi, who responded a particularly inane letter in the Enterprise, essentially suggesting that the time for general stores has come and gone.)

It's been a long, cold winter. And we are ready for spring. I responded to the Altamont Enterprise article, and Sustainable Hilltowns will be meeting again on Friday. I thought I'd use this forum to attempt to provoke a few of you into a greater discussion, though.

This bit, from Marcello's article, really annoyed me:

"Rocco Ferraro, executive director for the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, said how much of a bargain a customer perceives is at least as important as customer service.
“Is there a critical mass of activity that will serve that area as a destination, not only for the local consumer but for a broader market reach, to enhance their chance of survival?” Ferraro asked rhetorically of rural communities.
The planning commission is a co-operative board among Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, and Rensselaer counties that analyzes data and develops regional policy recommendations.
With rural populations flat or declining, Ferraro said, rural businesses are challenged. The Hilltowns each have populations projected by the commission to increase by less than 200 people by 2050. Rensselaerville is projected to gain just 17 people. Populations in the Hilltowns range from 1,843 in Rensselaerville to about 3,361 in Westerlo."
First of all, I haven't the slightest clue that that initial question even means. Second, isn't this the agency that ought to be trying to answer questions, not just ask them rhetorically? Seriously, I hope the Enterprise was as stunned by this profound inability to provide insight as I was.

I think we are trying to find answers. Really, I do. I think Medusa is continually filled with folks who ask some really hard questions - how do we encourage more farming? Should we facilitate the entry of more young farmers, or should we work on the infrastructure and hope providing the right environment will attract them? How do we convince more folks to shop local? Will small communities like ours stick around in a worse economic downturn - should they? And if we think they should, what sorts of community resilience measures should we be putting in to place to help them weather future economic storms?

Community is what we make it - and even though the Enterprise does point out correctly that there are fewer and fewer of we independents around - you always have the choice to make it better.

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