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Friday, November 13, 2009

Small town USA

It must be fun to grow up in a small town where you know everyone and they know you. A place where you can walk into stores and be greeted by name, and feel a true sense of community that living in a larger city just doesn't allow. Many planned neighborhoods, like the one I live in, try to recreate this lifestyle but can't quite capture the close-knit community fostered in small towns across America.

Visiting my grandparents in tiny Petersburg, Indiana, always involved spending a lot of time outdoors. My grandparents had a farm and grew various fruits and vegetables -- I remember picking tomatoes and blackberries in their backyard and enjoying them that night for dinner.

Going back to Petersburg today to complete more paperwork following my grandmother's death, we (mom, aunt, I) were amazed to see how much the town as changed. As goes the economy, so goes the town, especially one that relies heavily on power plants and coal mining.

As you drive into Persburg, the billboard declares former Dodgers player Gil Hodges as a proud local son. (Interestingly, my mom was once featured on that billboard. I need to scan that picture in!)

What was once a vibrant, bustling downtown is now a collection of secondhand stores, a Chinese buffet, a bar and a whole lot of empty storefronts. There was one cute, new-looking cafe/bakery, but besides that, options were limited.

My mom and aunt remember when the downtown strip was a one-stop location for all your needs -- dentist, drug store, restaurants -- but the economic downturn has obviously hit Petersburg hard. Many of the houses they remembered from childhood, where friends used to live, now appear completely abandoned and dilapidated, overgrown with weeds.

It was a quick walk around downtown, one that leaves me wondering what this town will look like in another five or 10 years. As jobs leave, so do young people and the future of Petersburg. Are small towns in America dying off?

Would you want to (or do you) live in a small town? It's easy to see why young people leave and never look back -- lack of opportunity, for one.