Don't let the real America slip away
When I was 10 years old, I used to spend part of every summer in the most idyllic place in the world.
Oh, I know I'm exaggerating. I know there were places a lot more peaceful than Crestline, Ohio, where my maternal grandparents lived. But for a young boy in the last year of the Eisenhower Administration, the idea that I could just take all day, go anywhere I wanted and do whatever I wanted had a certain magic about it.
I went to the library and checked out stacks of books. I walked to the park and usually managed to get into a pickup baseball game. Sometimes I walked around town looking for discarded pop bottles that I could return for two cents each, earning money to buy candy, baseball cards or comic books.
All three of those items came in at 10 cents or less.
What I remember most was the downtown area.Actually, my late grandmother called it "uptown." There were no fast-food outlets or convenience stores, but between drugstores, grocery stores and other small businesses, I could almost always find whatever I wanted.
Crestline had a population of about 5,000 then, and as of the 2010 census it had a total of 4,630 residents.
The town is dying, as are so many other small American towns. When my mother grew up there, folks went to the movies at two different theatres. By 1960 there was just the rundown Crest Theatre, where I used to see Wednesday kids' matinees for 10 cents, and where I actually saw "Gone With the Wind" for the first time.
Now if you live in Crestline and want to see a movie, you go to Mansfield or Bucyrus.
It's pretty much the same for most shopping. My grandfather talked proudly of urban renewal for the downtown in the '70s, but 40 years later, most folks head for the shopping centers and the superstores outside other, larger towns.
What killed the local downtowns? We all know that answer. Shopping centers came around after the war, followed by malls in the '60s and '70s and Walmarts after that.
When Walmart opened out near the interstates, it was impossible for local specialty stores to compete. The giant chain could operate at a loss while driving small local owners out of business, and after a while, it was the only place to shop.
Small businesses are disappearing. It's why I often laugh, albeit humorlessly, when I hear politicians going on and on about helping small business. They define "small" business as those with fewer than 500 employees, or in some cases fewer than 50 employees.
As far as they're concerned, family businesses with six or eight employees might not as well exist anymore.
Remember when Mitt Romney urged college graduates to borrow from their parents and then start their own businesses? He said he and his wife loaned their son Tagg $10 million to start an investment fund.
As Alan Jackson sang, the "little man" is dying.
I understand that and I recognize it may even be inevitable, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. It doesn't mean I have to admire companies like Bain Capital that rape small businesses to make money for their rich investors.
This isn't Mitt Romney's America.
It may not be ours anymore either, but we don't have to let it go quietly.
Find people willing to support true small businesses and vote for them.
The billionaires may have stolen our country, but when they ask us to love them for it, we can answer them with three words.
Take a hike.
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