By Craig Hastings
Seldom do I watch any of the surrounding evening television news. I stopped watching because most of the headline news was and is bad news about something or someone. The weather we all can get immediately from a variety of sources including the person next to us. Sports news, I’ve drifted away from caring some years ago. So for me what’s left to watch? So why is it then that most all of the network news leans to reporting the bad over the good? Shock value, grabbing the viewer’s attention to keep them watching from commercial to commercial. It’s about the money, and it needs to be about the money. Advertisers want to air front and center on the networks where people are talking about something they saw, when they’re heard saying to their friends: “Did you see on channel X what happened….!”
But this story isn’t about TV news or me finding fault in the way any of them manage their product. Television and print newspapers share a common business foe–social media. While both have to wait for a time slot to air or a print schedule to publish, social media outlets provide the news “right now”. The audience for both is shrinking as my generation and the one before mine age and pass away. Most of us are trying to cling to our way of the world as it was in the 60’s, 70’s, and early 80’s. We didn’t mind waiting until the local evening news aired a crash on I-57, a fire in Champaign, or the incredibly seldom shots fired story. But we couldn’t wait for our hometown local newspaper to publish each week. Inside the hometown paper was always and only about local people and local business. Best of all we were always anxious to see whose picture might appear with what event. Today we are considered to be living in slow motion by the younger millennial jet set generation.
So back to my opening and why. Last Thursday I did happen to watch one of the area television news programs. The lead footage was of two more small business closings. Not some upstart businesses that had been doing business for a few years and just couldn’t cut it. No, these were two that had been doing business in their hometowns for fifty plus years! I wondered, doesn’t anyone care?
Small business is dying in small rural communities. I’m old enough to remember the beginning of this ending. I’m old enough to remember when this all started. K Mart box stores started springing up everywhere. For the first time shoppers were introduced to the one-stop-shop experience. In the ten years that followed, every sort of business we shopped had become “chain store” trade. I remember all the, “Oh my gosh, you have to see blah, blah, blah…” However, the Hastings family didn’t even one time, that I can remember, drive to Champaign or Mattoon to experience the new phenomenon of box store shopping.
My dad was in the newspaper business and supporting local business was paramount to him. All those years ago I can remember him lecturing and predicting as to how the chain store would be the demise of small communities. Forty years later all of what he told me has become true. We were sold through national advertising campaigns that saving a dime on a gallon of milk and a nickel on a loaf of bread was the key to our financial success. The critics will line up and say to me they saved twenty dollars driving sixty miles round trip because they bought in bulk and now are stocked up and blah, blah, blah.
No you didn’t. Because you shopped at a one-stop box store you bought a bunch of stuff you never planned to buy and didn’t need. I’ve done the same. You spent money on gas to get there, and, because you don’t know how to figure it out, you never consider wear and tear on the components of your vehicle you drive. Be honest, you as much enjoyed the day/night out away from home as much or more than you did saving any money on what you bought. How many of you are satisfied just buying what you need and going right back home? I don’t see any hands raised. Mine either.
I changed how and where I shop a few years back. I’ll spend a little more to stay in town. I want Tuscola to always have mostly what I need to operate my household from day to day. The convenience of not having to run to Champaign or Mattoon every time I need a bolt or a can of corn appeals to me. Getting my oil changed and a tire fixed in Tuscola appeals to me. Buying house paint and all the supplies I need, and some I forgot the first time, in Tuscola appeals to me. Buying a new car at the last new car dealership we have left of the three we used to enjoy appeals to me.
How many of you know someone who drove sixty miles or more just to come back and boast how they saved two cents a gallon by driving those sixty miles to fill up their vehicle! What?! I don’t want to see even one more local business close their doors for good. The fast food places will come and go, and that’s by design so it doesn’t matter. If one leaves, one, if not two more, will take its place. My generation is the last that remembers the hustle and bustle of a thriving downtown business district. Not only Tuscola but Arcola, Arthur, and Villa Grove all enjoyed thriving, locally-owned businesses. Arthur is still an impressive sight for me to see. Arthur more than the rest of us support their own. I think it’s because they have been spared a major interstate highway with its four lanes of traffic passing through their town.
The non believers will keep on driving out of the town that’s good enough for them to live but not good enough to do any of their shopping. One day their vehicles will be sitting in their drives with flat tires. They will need a wrecker to tow it because the few tire shops we have left have all closed because they chose to buy those new tires out of town where they saved ten dollars. Scream out load when you need a half a dozen screws to finish a home project and no one in town sells them anymore because the stores that did all closed because when people needed five gallons of paint they drove out of town to save two dollars a gallon. It’s Sunday morning and you’ve decided to cook out and need fresh cut meat and charcoal for the grill but there isn’t a grocery store left in town. Why, because people decided to drive out of town to the big box store to save twenty dollars and believe they’re practicing stocking up. The more food anyone has in their house; the more they will eat.
Support your hometown businesses whenever you can. If the day comes when all small town retail is gone what do you think the prices will do in your favorite box stores? Come on, think about it. They will do what we would all do if we had the market cornered–raise prices. What I can’t figure out is this: how is it our small rural communities are where people want to live but not where they shop? Surely they know their schools, fire protection, and police protection are all possible because retail sales tax help support their existence right?