July 31, 2017
Kingsburg, California: Past and present converge in a close-knit community
After receiving 14,000 nominations for towns to put in the spotlight during season two of “Small Business Revolution – Main Street,” we hit the road to visit eight inspiring towns that made our short list of potential finalists. Throughout summer, we’re looking back and sharing the stories of what made each town special – including guest posts from local leaders and some profiles of businesses in these communities. This is the first post in our weeklong focus on Kingsburg, California.
It’s no secret how this town earned its “Little Sweden” nickname. Its quaint downtown storefronts are shining examples of classic Swedish architecture. “Välkommen!” is sprawled across welcome signs. Brightly colored Dala horses decorate street corners.
When discussing the community, local leaders and residents use terms like “Midwestern values.” They talk about being “family oriented” and built around a strong agricultural industry. Surely they must be describing somewhere in Wisconsin, right? Maybe Minnesota?
In fact, they’re referring to Kingsburg, California, which is located between the bustling Bay Area and Los Angeles, but shares very little in common with tech-savvy Silicon Valley or the glitzy Hollywood hills.
Kingsburg initially developed as a Southern Pacific Railroad town in the mid-1800s. As recent as the early 1900s, the community’s population was 90 percent Swedish, and over the decades, it built an identity as a key agricultural hub. A variety of food producers also emerged, creating popular products using ingredients unique to the local region.
Today, as you stroll through Kingsburg, the town aesthetics are a clear reminder of its history, as virtually all buildings reflect traditional Swedish architecture. During annual town festivals, you can spot people strolling the streets in traditional Swedish garb. If you have a hankering for Swedish pancakes, you can swing into Diane’s Village Bakery & Café. And many small businesses continue to thrive by producing and selling food products developed with local ingredients, as they have for many years.
But Kingsburg’s population is also incredibly diverse these days, and its 12,000 residents, along with a wide array of successful small businesses, all contribute to its modern identity. As was common with other towns we visited, Kingsburg is seeking ways to leverage their rich heritage while forging a new vision for the future. Case in point: Lejon Hair Studio, where Daniel Martinez, a passionate young entrepreneur, named the salon after the Swedish word for “Lion,” and created an unmistakably modern vibe that seamlessly ties together Kingsburg’s past and present.
There are still some big local employers, including SunMaid Raisins, but small businesses are increasingly the lifeblood of Kingsburg’s local economy. The trick is getting people to actually pull off the freeway and visit those local businesses. Countless cars pass by the town each day on a nearby freeway, including many tourists who are visiting area farms to learn about locally grown food. But very few know that this gem of a community sits just seconds off of the freeway exit – and that it’s the perfect place for tasting unique products made using local ingredients. Like any marketing challenge, though, it presents a major opportunity for Kingsburg, if they find creative ways to get the word out.
Next time you find yourself on the West Coast, don’t limit your visit to the usual suspects like San Diego, San Francisco or even Sonoma – in fact, “Little Sweden” produces some great (and underrated) wine, which you can enjoy at Ramos Torres Winery when you’re in town.