Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A town choking itself to extinction

Small towns are often seen as tourist attractions, tid-bits of the past mixed with modern day stores. However, what happens when a town refuses to change, refuses to better itself or build on its existing assets?

Over the past 30 years the town I live in has went from a decent bustling small city to an almost dead ghost town. If it wasn't for Wal-Mart I think this town would be almost completely empty. The mall (if you can call it that) has more junk in it then merchandise, main street has very little to stop and even consider looking at, and the people running the city seam to be living in another world. A few months back I spoke to a man who said Keokuk was fine, and that people needed to stop whining about how the economy has made things worse. His solution to the lack of jobs and stores was to shop elsewhere and work elsewhere while at the same time living here. To me this just seams like a moot point. How can a city thrive if everyone has houses here but does all their living in surrounding areas.

Travel 50 miles in any direction and you'll see towns that are doing much better. Why? Because the majority of people have the same idea as the man I talked to. While Ft. Madison, Burlington, and Quincy grow, Keokuk falls deeper and deeper into becoming a ghost town.

Recently the city chamber put out a survey to find out what Keokuk residents feel about how the city has been doing so far. I can only imagine what the final results from these surveys will be. Lets take a look at some of the points Keokuk simply refuses or is unable to take care of.

1. Shopping is limited to a very few places. These places are mostly large chain stores that put very little to no money back into the community. The jobs they generate are minimum wage jobs that have been filled by a large number of elderly who can no longer live on their retirement pensions.

2. Teen / kid related activity is almost zero. Several arcades have opened and shortly after closed due to vandalism, bullies, or lack of funds. Skate N Challenge had great ideas but closed due to too many bullies and not enough people spending money. Who wants to let their kids hang out somewhere they'll be ostracized and possibly harmed. K-town underground is rumored to have closed because of child pornography taking place by the owners. Even if not true, the place was a dump. A dark room in a basement with over priced junk food and no real activities to do. All attempts at getting a skate part put in have ended with each one being closed from complaints of more vandalism and bullying.

3. Many locally owned stores along main closed shortly after Wal-Mart opening, however the large chain store remains while dozens of local business still remain empty. More the likely several of the workers of those local stores had to go work for Wal-Mart just to keep making a living.

4. Keokuk has started (for what seams like the dozenth time in 10 years) a "Buy Local" campaign to urge people to buy from local business. The only problem with that is there is nothing of use you can buy from local businesses. Need diapers? Chain stores. Need parts for your vehicle? Chain stores are your choice. Need Medication? Chain stores. Groceries can be purchased from local farmers market, but for everything aside from the basic vegetables and eggs your once again looking at taking a trip to a chain store.

5. Keokuk offers almost zero help for small businesses to start. Quincy has the Business and Technology center to allow new business to grow at a lower cost. If you located a block and a half off main or less you will also need to get a permit or have almost every aspect of your new business ok'd by the "Main street group".

These are just a few of the problems others and myself have seen around the area but little has been done in decades to fix these problems. This doesn't include streets, schools closing, and a rise in drug problems.

Keokuk could really benefit from looking at surrounding areas for ideas. Just because a building is old does not make it "History". We seen exactly what happens when a "Historic" building is let sit with the "Green Tambourine". Now they want to make the underground tunnels that many of the city citizens knew existed, into a tourist attraction. This was brought up years ago before and the city responded with the high costs and insurance liability problems. So these problems have subsided now? I think not. The city will waste tons of money on cleanup only to close the tunnels off from the public leaving a big lot with nothing but a hole in it. It won't be long before many other parts of Main street follow and with each one a new empty lot will emerge. More then likely staying empty for years.

Surrounding areas would have knocked down these troublesome building and put effort forth to fill them with new buildings and new business. Even offering rental space at a lower cost for the first 3-5 years would probably get more businesses to open. $600-$1200 is the average cost of an average location on main. Add in the fact that Keokuk has very little money being spent already and your looking at another business waiting to close from lack of money coming in.

Eventually Keokuk will get the hint that his is small town USA, not a big city. The people here worked hard for years in factories and now all they have to look towards for employment is a greeter or cashier.

Many may be thinking "If you don't like it move"! Well I'm excepting offers for jobs paying 45k or more per year and I'll be happy to oblige. Till then i'm in the same boat as the rest, not enough money to stay and not enough money to leave.

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