My, It Looks So … Nice.

One of the experiences you gain as you grow older is that you attend an increasing number of “calling hours” at funeral homes.   Elderly members of your, or your friend’s, family pass on, and you go to pay your respects and offer your condolences.  One of the facets of  that is that you’ll hear at least one person (and usually more) make a comment about how nice a job the funeral director did on the deceased, that they “look so nice.”    I was reminded of that when a co-worker was discussing the goings-on in one of the groups in a nearby town.   There was a lot of pushing done to “beautify” the main street,  and arguments over whether a pavilion should be built on a local beach, or its placement.   I said “Well, that’s nice, but all they’re doing is dressing up a corpse.”

What did I mean by that?  Let’s jump back 40 years.  The town I knew as a teen had 2 diners, a grocery store, a general store, a gas station,  restaurants,  bars,  summer cottage rentals,  and motels.  Besides the people staying in the cottages or motels,  a healthy number of day visitors and  two nearby state campgrounds  provided a steady stream of business and income.  One of the diners and the gas station were open year-round.  It was a “busy place” in the summer.

What’s it like today?  It’s not that busy place anymore, it’s a place you pass through on your way to someplace else.  There are no restaurants or diners.  The grocery store and the general store are gone, the gas station has been converted into a small convenience store with a limited selection.   Some of the rental cottages remain, but most of them, along with the motels are no longer  in operation.

What happened was that during the real estate bubbles of the mid-80′s and  later on the 2000′s, land prices skyrocketed, and with that, the ability of many locals to afford to purchase a house or find a place to rent.   It was a great time if you were a real estate agent, but the impact on the town was something quite different.    For those who already owned a house or business, another problem arose.  Each sale, at an increasing price, meant that their property assessment increased, increasing the amount of property taxes they had to pay.  Most of the businesses were closed and sold to be turned into “summer properties.”     A restaurant that had been in operation for a century is now someone’s private “summer place.”

Hence, my comment.  The once vibrant little village is now just a summer bedroom community, with just a few year-round residents.  Yes, they’ve been doing a lot of beautification projects, but there’s no reason to stop there anymore.  All the things that made it a vibrant little community are now gone, and won’t be coming back.   Yes, it does look nice.  But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s dead, and that’s the real shame.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “My, It Looks So … Nice.

  1. lockewasright

    “What did I mean by that? Let’s jump back 40 years. The town I knew as a teen had 2 diners, a grocery store, a general store, a gas station, restaurants, bars, summer cottage rentals, and motels. Besides the people staying in the cottages or motels, a healthy number of day visitors and two nearby state campgrounds provided a steady stream of business and income. One of the diners and the gas station were open year-round. It was a “busy place” in the summer.”

    That sounds like my wife’s home town in northern Michigan. Unfortunately, it seems to me as though the town is becoming one people pass through as well.

    • This small village is a microcosm of what’s happening in many places, but particularly in areas that are (or were) tourist destinations. Most of the people who used to live here and raise their families are gone. They simply can’t afford to live here anymore, and many of the businesses simply couldn’t keep going with the loss of the local population. At the same time, during the real estate boom, they could get more money selling their business as “private homes” than as a business. So there was no corresponding replacement.

      • lockewasright

        My father-in-law owns a sporting goods store. It’s mostly a hunting and fishing supply store. In its prime, the town was a summer tourist destination for fishing and boating with several beaches in glacial and great lakes nearby and a couple of spring fed clear water rivers connecting the lakes. There are lots of small rental cottages. His house/store backs right up to one of the rivers. The neighbors’ restaurant/bar has a dock on the river leading to a patio out back. It’s a nice little town. It gets some seasonal business for deer season and the summer boating and fishing that I mentioned, but Traverse City isn’t very far off and it has much more draw. Between the tourists mostly opting for Traverse City instead and the big corporate competitors like Wal-Mart with their cheaper prices and wider selection, it’s getting pretty tough to keep the store going I suspect. The kids are all grown and gone and he owns the place outright so it’s not too tragic for him, but the vanishing mom and pop store coast to coast is saddening. I do my best to shop small, local businesses here in the town where we live.

        • The difference up here is that the nearest Wal-Mart is at least an hour away. What happened during the real estate booms is that people “loved the area to death.” The rapid increase in property prices meant that even if someone wanted to return to (or stay in) the area, they couldn’t afford to live here. Just as an example, around 1981, my aunt suggested that my sisters and I buy a summer house that was for sale up here. Asking price: $23,000. 25 years later, that place was assessed at almost $200,000. But it’s still a 3 bedroom summer-only house that’s on a back road, and not much land with it.

          The restaurant I mentioned ended up being sold as a private home because the owners could get a lot more money for it as that, than as a business. In fact, they got around twice what they would have. So you not only have the problem of a lack of affordable places to live, there’s now a decrease in available jobs and “things to do.”