GratiTuesday: Funky Town

I live in a pretty big city. But like most cities it’s made up of small communities, each with its own distinct personality. The demographics of each community often define its personality, but sometimes it is hard to know if the personality came first or the demographics.

There is a beach community that is several miles from where we currently live but is less than a mile from my childhood home. I spent much of my summers hanging around the beach and strolling along the main shopping district with my friends. It was funky when I was young and it is doing its best to maintain that funk even as investors salivate at its potential for development. That independent, counter-culture vibe is apparent on signs in shop windows and on bumper stickers that read: “U.S. Out of O.B.”

Starbucks managed to get a toehold, but not before receiving a huge community pushback. I’m not sure how it’s doing (long-time residents still refuse to patronize it), but they have smartly downplayed the corporate look at this particular outlet. Now, a Target Express wants to take over what was once a five-and-dime store and is now an antiques mall. If Target manages to break through the strong local opposition, I will be one of those mourning the loss of another locally-owned business.

Last Saturday, my husband and I attended the town council’s annual Pancake Breakfast. The proceeds help fund projects like the annual Food and Toy Drive and pay for the gigantic lighted Christmas tree “planted” on the beach each December. Although the food is OK, a big draw is that the breakfast is held on the fishing pier. After several days of chillier-than normal weather and constant overcast, we were favored with bright blue skies and warm sun. It was a glorious morning.

So many of our communities are being taken over by generic chain stores and cookie-cutter fast food outlets. It has become rare to find a truly locally-owned business and, when I do, I try to patronize it as much as possible. If I have to spend a little bit more to keep a family’s business in business, I am willing to do so. And, if paying $10 for two pancakes, a scoop of scrambled eggs, and a couple of charred sausage links helps support a community’s desire to maintain its unique character, I’m all in. That it includes dining at a table which offers a view of the coastline and surfers playing in the waves below, all the better.

I am so grateful for the personality of the small community I grew up in. It’s a little bohemian, a little quirky, and a lot funky. It’s been a long time since I’ve sunned myself on the beach and most of the businesses have changed since my younger days. But the smell of the salty air is unmistakable and, in many ways, it will always feel like home.

60 thoughts on “GratiTuesday: Funky Town”

  1. My own small town (not my home town though) has a similar ‘rule’ towards outlets and big box stores. It remains, for the most part, charming and small town America, but I wonder how long that will last. We have a main street populated with mom & pop and locally owned businesses and restaurants, but I fear the income isn’t sufficient to maintain that. Our town’s resources seem rather small too. They do host pancake breakfasts and the like to raise funds for things like Meals on Wheels and other community projects, but I bet it falls short sometimes. Perhaps the most lucrative thing is the week long festival “Peach Days” which occurs early in September and seems to attract larger crowds every year. Maybe there is some hope for the small town left?

    1. I’m sure that story is repeated over and over across the country. I think that when the majority of the population wakes up and realizes when they have lost, it will be too late. I know of a few communities who were very excited to get a Walmart, then were horrified as all the local establishments shut down. Some communities like this then lose Walmart because the sales don’t live up to their business model and are left with a big, empty building… and no more locally-owned stores.

  2. Your community looks beautiful to me. I agree that as big retailers take hold of small towns, the funkiness tends to fade away. I have this idea that we’ll all be in our 90s and some young whippersnappers who study history will want to interview us about how small towns used to be. And won’t we have a lot to say?

  3. Sounds idyllic. Going to the Jersey shore is like that. A little funky, lots of local restaurants. (Yes, I miss having a Starbucks there but only because all the local coffee stinks!) It’s only a week or two every year but it reminds me of my youth. I don’t sit on the beach anymore but I love to smell the salty air. It’s healing.

      1. Perhaps if I stayed with black coffee I’d do better but I try to get a mocha latte. Some make it with chocolate milk. Yuk! Very sweet. There aren’t many chains because the business during the winter is too slow. On our last trip my wonderful husband took me to a Starbucks 20 minutes from our rental.

  4. I live about 15 or 20 minutes away from the beach and I hardly ever go. When I see pictures and read stories like yours I always plan to start going more and then never do. Thanks for sharing. Following you now 🙂

  5. The uniqueness of a community is what makes it desirable to both live in and visit. The local restaurants and stores also fall under that *unique* category. The successful small communities are getting that.

  6. Just going for a walk there looks fantastic. Mark and I walked on a pier in Ocean Beach back in February, but that establishment does not look familiar. We had lunch and ate fish&chips. Must have been in somewhat of a different community.

    It’s so great that you support the local businesses, Janis. If it is to support a good cause or donate to something I stand behind, I happily spend $10 on a mediocre breakfast as well, as long as it doesn’t happen too often. 🙂 The main reason why we have not attended events like this in the communities we house sit is that the food is always very unhealthy.

  7. I too lament the commercial invasion and overthrow of the small hometown community of my childhood. Big box stores, fast-casual restaurants, and express hotels have mostly replaced the small local establishments. I am always pleased when I spot a relic of the past, like a trail I used to bike on or a drinking fountain that I used to use. Here’s to O.B. and all of our small hometown communities. May they live long a prosper, not just in our memories.

  8. Small towns and community atmosphere are two things hard to find these days. We have several areas that still able to hold on to it. But in some towns the downtown ‘looks’ the same, but if I drive a mile away there is a strip mall with the major players only they built the facade to look like the era the town was built. A Target is still a Target. I applaud each and every town trying to support their small businesses. Your breakfast spot looks wonderful. 🙂

  9. I’m delighted that your town is holding on, and I wish the community all the best.
    Living where I do, next to a town that has been called “the town that refuses to die,” I understand that some communities vanish, others hold on by the proverbial fingernails, and still others flourish. Is there a magic formula for those that make it? I wish I knew it.

    1. I’m not sure what the magic formula would be, but I think it requires just about everyone pulling together. As these communities lose their long-term residents, I think there is less interest. As that great philosopher Joni Mitchell said: You don’t know what you’ve got til its gone.

  10. Having been here myself and all the beach communities, they would not be the same if stores go “corporate.” I agree to spend a little more to patronize the locals! After all, those “locals” are the heart and soul of those communities!

  11. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I agree with everything you’ve written here, Janice. I reject with all of my being the corporate sameness the now pervades nearly each and every one of our communities. Good for your hometown for trying to strike back at that. It looks like a great place. – Marty

    1. I really hope that they are successful, but I won’t be too surprised if, the next time we visit, we see a Target in that building. I remember spending way too much time as a child looking at all the wonders in the old five-and-dime. I guess those are now the generic “dollar stores” and are everywhere.

  12. I love the sense of community too, either from an actual small town, or from a neighborhood within a larger city. And I agree, the best way we can support them is to patronize the small businesses. I do it whenever I can!

    1. The big problem with the larger retailers like Target (and, even a Target “Express, whatever that is) is that they sell a multitude of the items the mom and pops do so it impacts more than one independent store. They claim that they won’t compete, but it’s hard to imagine how they could avoid it.

  13. I think municipal government is one important factor in shaping a town’s character. I lived in two communities in northern BC that were not far from each other. Both were located in spectacularly beautiful physical settings. One town had a town council that fought to keep a big pulp mill development out, and later to keep Walmart out, and had policies to support local businesses. The other had a “development oriented” council that welcomed Walmart and every other chain with open arms. Guess which one has a beautiful quaint Main Street, and which one has hideous decaying strip malls and light industrial developments sprinkled indiscriminately across the landscape?

    Jude

  14. Hi Janis,
    I live in a rural area, outside a hamlet, and surrounded by small towns – some with beaches, all with quirky and fun community events like long lunches (tables down the center of the main street), perfect pie contests, and artists’ studio tours.
    We face all of the challenges you’ve so accurately described in your post, exacerbated by the reality that 98% of the big box stores are from the United States. As I see our local businesses disappearing, there’s the additional pain of feeling that our Canadian identity is being swallowed whole by our southern neighbours. I’m not sure this would have bothered me when I was younger, before I had a few dozen experiences that made the ‘takeover’ feel so dismissive of Canadian values, but it sure does bother me now.
    I don’t know what the solution is, Janis, but paying $10 for mediocre local breakfasts is as good a place to start as any. I do the same, gladly and often. And I shop at Home Hardware, our Canadian box store. I used to buy my peppermint tea at Tim Hortons but that icon of Canadian identity and pride, while still everywhere in Canada, is now part of the Burger King dynasty.
    Yuck, this is depressing.

    1. Yuck is right. Pretty soon every community will look one big strip mall. And, from what you’ve shared, the strip mall is now extending all the way into Canada. I remember reading about the Tim Hortons take-over and feeling saddened. Did they experience any loss in sales?

  15. Janis, I agree. I love local stores. When I travel to a city, I don’t want to patronize a restaurant chain. I also love local shops. It takes a concerted effort to fight Walmart and Targets who can dwarf a community with its legal beagles. Keith

  16. hear hear!
    I agree about the small businesses and need to preserve and keep them.
    and we just ate a small place that is a very small diner – locally owned and been there for 60 years – well never expected the food to be so good –
    anyhow- lucky you to have grown up near the beach like that
    and like the collage – the modern mermaid is fun

      1. 🙂 thanks for the reply – and be dropping by again –
        oh and we went to the diner because it was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” – a cool TV show that highlights some great places….

  17. I can understand your feeling of sadness that so many communities have lost the qualities that made them unique and a place you could take pride in having as your hometown. When we were back in the US to visit in the fall of both 2015 and 2016, we took a couple of very long road trips and were struck each time by the sameness of the generic chain and big box stores that marked the outskirts of each town and city. How wonderful to be able to return to the town of your childhood and find that many of the things you treasured still remain! Anita

    1. All these places are starting to look the same and are losing their unique identity. I remember having a conversation with someone from a small town who was so excited that a Walmart was opening soon. In some ways, I couldn’t blame her because it represented jobs (although certainly not great ones) and the ability to purchase items not currently available in her town. But it saddened me that her beautiful little community was about to became overshadowed by a big box store who really doesn’t care a bit about the citizens.

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