Friday, July 7, 2017


Photo courtesy of Google Street View

Like most towns, our town hasn't uniformly grown and prospered over the years. Big box stores came to other sides of town and set up their stores which caused those sides to develop and leaving many areas to slowly wither away and rot. Recent trends have sought to reverse that and the inner parts of town are slowly being improved again and perhaps not coincidentally, the big box stores have closed their doors and are leaving behind large empty concrete parking lots and run down box store structures. Still, there are parts of our town that have spent many years withering and may never recover from the years of neglect.

My wife's office moved to a new location on the edge of one such blighted district which coincidentally houses one of our favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants just a few blocks away. It is the orange building you see crammed in-between two much larger buildings and it only about 10 by 40 feet in dimension. In that space they cram a bathroom, kitchen, counter and about a half dozen tables. It is cozy to say the least but due to it's look, location, etc., we have never had to wait for a table.

It serves up El Salvadorian food that is best described as home cooked comfort food. It is what I would consider very basic but very tasty. Most people driving by would take a look at the place and keep on driving because it looks like a dive on the outside. Those that do open the door and peek in might turn around and walk away because it looks like a dive on the inside as well. Everything in it is well used and run down. The simple menu consists of black and white photos printed off on a printer and taped to one wall. The other wall is full of handwritten Hispanic ads looking to sell something. But the tables, walls and floors are always clean and being somewhat of an adventurous eater, I have always walked in and sat down anyway. I haven't been disappointed.

Coincidentally, it is beside another of my new favorite stores that makes fresh tortillas daily. I was okay all my life eating those plastic wrapped tortillas out of our local grocery store that were made in some factory somewhere and are all very uniform in size and shape. That was until I ate a warm tortilla that was literally less than an hour old. Suddenly what I had been eating tasted closer to what cardboard tastes like than what a tortilla should taste like. Now we just pop in whenever and buy a dozen fresh and generally still warm tortillas when necessary and if they ever close up shop, I will probably never be able to force down one from a grocery store again.


Vince said...

It's been one of my pet peeves these last 10 years, since the economic collapse occurred. Our towns, with landlords still expecting rents based on compounding the 2005 ones, and the towns expecting rates(Town Tax) to remain the same too.
Yes their costs remain the same with road cleaning lights and so forth, and with you probably schools police and jails. But how in gods name does it make any sort of sense. But of course it does, only not for the local. It makes real sense for the big box, or any company to leave empty buildings for they become write-offs while remaining on the books as an asset for leveraging purposes.
Now, I'm not the sharpest knife in the box for it took me an unconscionable amount od time to figure out the business case for empty units in the towns. Where I can't penetrate is where for the town/county/State administrators the case can be made at all. You see to my mind any trade is good, and expecting a silicon valley/mountain view employer of 500-1000 to turn up and save the town is delusional.
The question is would a book shop survive and provide a living. Probably not. And for certain it won't while the old system prevails. Why should a local buy in town when she can buy on line at half the price. And the US is ideally placed to realise the futility of fighting on anything other than price for the same thing. You know what and why the great Chicago mail order books existed

Bob said...

The concept of downtown areas vs the suburbs is fascinating and according to my very un-scientific study, it's cyclical.

I love the hole-in-the wall places like the one you have shared about. I hope this one stays in business for a long time to come.

Susan said...

I would really like to see more chutzpah on the part of town governments, when facing development by big box stores. They need to also provide an exit plan, should they pack up their tents in the night and leave. My little town has been in a tailspin for years. Back in the day, there was some light industry, small stores and a bustling main street. Then the state decided to build a new main road that by-passed the main street and that was the beginning of the end. It's never recovered. I am such a fan of fresh tortillas and adventurous eating! I would be in that restaurant in a heart-beat! I hope that they make out well from the new business in their neighborhood.

Ed said...

Vince - Our town is like a lot of rural towns and still maintains the "build it and they will come" school of thought. I however look at the populations schedules and see that in the last 70 years, the population has been steadily declining and I see no reason for that trend to reverse in the future, or at least in the remainder of my lifetime. Just recently they have been contemplating spending millions to upgrade our water treatment facility so that we could attract a huge employer here in town. No one seems to care that we don't have enough workers to keep it running and don't have enough resources to attract workers to the area first. It ends up being the classic story of which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Bob - It seems cyclical for large urban areas at least. Unfortunately for rural small town America, where land is plentiful, it just seems like moving the prosperous areas from one side of town to another and never repeating. In my lifetime in this town, business went from downtown, to the south, to the north, out to the southwest and now they are looking at the northeast as the next big thing. Meanwhile the population has dropped to about a fourth of what it was at its peak 80 years ago. There has been a token effort to fix up downtown in recent years but due to the style of shopping, I don't see it having any effect on bring money downtown other than renting out the upper floors of not very prosperous pawnshops and small boutique type stores. I think it is really delaying the inevitable.

Susan - It really was a huge blow to our community. We lost four big box stores in the space of three months and all were in the household clothing/retail business. Our choices now are online, Walmart or driving 60 miles up the road to the next nearest location. Thus far, they were able to sell half of one of those buildings to open up a Hobby Lobby and the remaining three and a half big box stores sit vacant and their lots growing up in weeds.

Kelly said...

So often it's these hole-in-the-wall places that have THE best food!

My small hometown has been on a population decline for more than 50 years (and part of that is because the closest Interstate highway is a good hour's drive away. In recent years, though, there's been a new campaign to spruce up our downtown and it's becoming quite the showplace and starting to get state-wide recognition. They have a new major project on the cusp and I truly hope it pays off in the long run.

Nothing quite like fresh tortillas. Mmmmm.

Ed said...

Kelly - Although I know several towns that have made great improvements in their downtown, I don't know a single one that has reversed population decline and that seems like the priority for doing these sorts of things. The only places that seem to be able to reverse the population decline are large urban centers.

Saying that, I'm generally in favor of the effort and to some extent, the money needed to fix up these downtown areas. While we will never reverse the population decline, it doesn't mean we need to hurry it up by letting large swaths of the town decay. Those around now can enjoy the newly rebuilt beauty for the two or three decays before it returns back to the state it was. We just need to be honest with ourselves that we will probably never get a financial return on our "investment" which is what most seem to pitch to the town councils.