When a small town has it made


Stretch of road in New York.

We’re considering a run of roughly twenty-eight miles. Doesn’t hit a major city over this particular route. Mainly just small towns looking for a claim to fame, but tourism dollars aren’t a way of life (and likely never will be).

From the start to the finish of our journey, you’ll see the familiar outline of a Pizza Hut three times. Two of them are closed, but the iconic roof design more than confirms the identity of last occupant. All of them were opened the first time Terry and I drove along this road.

The two closings likely shouldn’t be much of a surprise. If I asked you to name the major players in the fast food and similar industry, it might take a while to get to Pizza Hut. And yet, along this same stretch of road…

* Two McDonald’s
* Three Burger Kings
* Two Wendy’s
* One Taco Bell
* One Arby’s
* Two KFCs
* One Dominos

Ever think you would see Pizza Hut outnumber McDonald’s over a significant stretch of busy road? There was a time when it was true. Subway might even be the most common, but the numbers include one inside a gas station’s convenience store, and I can’t confirm if that’s one of three or four (or possibly even five) along the path.

I think about this from time to time, because there was likely a day when the openings were celebrated. Local papers probably ran ribbon-cutting feature articles. Visiting might have become a regular event for families.

“Our town has a Pizza Hut!” And the sun was out.

In the corner of my mind are fairly detailed memories of a bank opening up near our house decades ago. They held a party that lasted multiple days. Had someone dressed up in a costume walking on a tightrope. (It was a lion wearing a king’s robe and crown. Impressive enough, and partly little else going on, that we went to a couple of the shows.) Gave out gift bags to kids, which resulted in multiple days that summer making bake-it-yourself stained glass.

About fifteen years later that banking group had been sold in a merger process, and a handful of years after that it was sold again. Today, the bank group that oversees that specific property is one that didn’t exist when I was growing up.

Times change. Though I don’t believe a tightrope was set up for any of the acquisitions.

A few years ago, a woman made headlines in Wisconsin when she wrote an article for a local paper demanding an Olive Garden location in her town. As I recall, she filled her request with glowing descriptions of breadsticks and salad. Her piece was immediately the target of replies, ranging from a wide variety of jokes to several enquiries about whether or not she had ever frequented the current assortment of amazing culinary delights already run by her neighbors. In short, not many others wanted an Olive Garden there.

The Olive Garden story raises two interesting points.

One heads back to my thoughts about the media coverage of a Pizza Hut opening and a lion walking over a parking lot. Communities and planners do get excited about the possibilities of new businesses. And that excitement can multiply when a national chain is involved, bringing established companies to the neighborhood setting.

That’s kind of a celebration level that hits (my words): “A new Starbucks and a new Shake Shack? We might need to add a traffic light on Main Street.”

Big doings in little village, exciting things are happening now. It’s read as a sign of accomplishment, in a way. The population is strong enough to support the operations of a recognized brand. Which, in part, brings on the other point.

Some places don’t want the chains. Hate them. Put regulations and requirements in place as roadblocks to keep them away. They like the charm and feel of things the way they are, want to keep things organized in a sort of our-town-only-treasure atmosphere.

Whether you want an Olive Garden (or a Starbucks or a Shake Shack) or prefer a unique and only here feel, there really isn’t a wrong answer on which way to move forward. Both can have their advantages. Both can work to tremendous success. There are examples all across the country of each.

And yet, there are times when a small town celebrated a big day. Probably felt like things were moving in the right direction. Only a day arrived where the Pizza Hut letters and logos have been taken down, the lights turned off, and the doors locked. The signs may be gone, but the outline of the building gives away that plans didn’t continue exactly as expected.

Some towns have it made. And some don’t move ahead with quite the same results.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com