I was born in 1949. As I was growing up in a small farming community on the Illinois plains, you could truly live and die without leaving town and have everything necessary for a great life.
My community of less than 2000 people included:
Two grocery stores, a bank, a post office, a bakery, a dry cleaners, a funeral home, a dairy, a drugstore, a dry goods store, a feed store, a bowling alley, two doctors, one dentist, Methodist, Christian, Catholic and Assembly of God churches, two cafes, three gas stations, a movie theater, a butcher shop, a farm implement dealer, two seed corn companies, a lumber yard, a hardware store, several hair dressers and a barber, three taverns, a library, a dime store, city hall, the local grain elevator, a community house, a 12K school, a city park, a greenhouse for flowers/seeds/plants etc, a piano teacher, a pool hall and a dairy queen.
I don’t think anyone in town lived too far to walk to town. You could for sure, bike from one end to the other. Everyone looked out for each other and if you misbehaved, your folks would know before you could get home with your side of the story. Every place in town was safe too. Like every small town USA, there were old fogeys and grandparent types, pleasant people and loners, and folks you just accepted as part of the fabric of hometown. You also knew that, above all, you belonged to this town.
I believe this same town now, in 2020, consists of:
The same library building, two cafes, a Casey’s [a7/11 type], one seed company, one implement dealer, the same four churches, a bank, a post office, a bowling alley, a butcher shop, an auto repair shop, a B n B, a funeral home, the elevator, one tavern and probably a couple of hair salons. I live 12 hours away and I may have missed a thing or two….or maybe I haven’t.
I doubt the people of this town know all the other people of this town. The 12k school is long consolidated to just a few lower grades and diminished for it, as well. There is nowhere to buy your prom date a flower. There are no more proms held in the same gym. The library hasn’t been the same since our loyal Lucille held court. The butcher shop is A#1 – best sausage ever and won’t be the same when Sharon and Rob give it up for Wisconsin or just plain fatigue.
I don’t know if a business could thrive to support a family if one spouse didn’t work away from town. Maybe the implement dealer employees could, but their clientele is far reaching and not dependent on just the very local farmers.
I’ve no idea how small town USA can thrive today. Who cares enough to be accountable to their neighbors and their community? We have way too much ‘governing’ in our lives today – rules, regulations, bureaucratic red tape and leaders who want to ‘govern’ unleashed.
Small town USA doesn’t survive, because we have lost accountability. Accountability is what we need to thrive and grow. Communities must choose folks to lead, who want to be accountable to their neighbors, their businesses, their churches, their friends and their family. When that takes precedent over power and money, small town USA may see a resurgence.
It appears to be a long way off.