September 27, 2017
Betting on small towns
By: Bill Pezza, President of Bristol Borough Raising the Bar
Everyone loves an underdog. That time-worn statement still holds true, especially when referencing tiny Bristol Borough, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Like so many small, blue collar towns in America, this proud and once prosperous community fell on hard times when neighboring factories closed or drastically reduced their workforce, resulting in a downward spiral of investment and diminished confidence in the town’s future. But thanks to talented and effective local leaders, an incredible group of tenacious private volunteers and an amazing community spirit, the town clawed back from obscurity to emerge first out of 3,500 communities across America to win the national Small Business Revolution – Main Street contest sponsored by Deluxe Corporation. Buoyed by its success, and bursting with renewed confidence, it stands poised to move forward, to create its own opportunities and to be a model of hope for similar communities.
It’s important to note that people like those who led the Bristol Borough charge exist in every struggling town in America. All they need is an opportunity to organize and mobilize in order to reach their potential. Deluxe has dramatically helped galvanize our town and we’re convinced Season 2 of the Small Business Revolution film series will be a catalyst to other towns making their own success stories.
Deluxe’s mission with the Small Business Revolution is in part, meant to help rebuild small town America one small business at a time. It is a noble goal and their generosity and expertise will not be forgotten by the people of Bristol Borough.
When thinking about small towns across America, especially our community, I’m reminded of a Mark Twain story. Apparently, while Twain was traveling in London in the late 1890s, there were reports back home that he had died. Upon hearing the news, Twain, in satisfactory health, reportedly quipped, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Like Twain, assertions about the demise of small towns are not only exaggerated, I contend that they are flat out wrong. The Deluxe Corporation’s Small Business Revolution is on to something big with their emphasis on small town main streets which were once the bedrock of America.
Society is evolving so quickly that it is often difficult to recognize trends as they are happening. Online vendors like Zappos and Amazon are exploding. At the same time, we see the large shopping malls falling into decline, with retail giants like Macy’s, J.C. Penny and Sears closing stores in dramatic numbers. Their closings will cause a drag on the malls they once anchored and most likely prompt a ripple effect among the smaller retailers that once surrounded them.
Time magazine recently reported one out of four malls will close in the next five years, victimized by the ease and efficiency of the online retail experience. This evolving economy creates opportunities for smaller communities, provided they have effective leadership, a strong community spirit and can articulate a shared vision for who they are and where they are going.
Main streets will never be the retail hubs they were in their glory days. But they can fill the void that mall closings are creating and experience a resurgence if they find their niche. For Bristol Borough and similar communities, we believe that niche is dining, the arts and specialty retail, with a strong emphasis upon historic preservation and promoting our natural resources.
I have little doubt that online consumerism will continue to flourish, and will account for a growing share of our purchases. But after a hard day at the computer either working, shopping or searching for that perfect item, people will always have a desire to gather and interact with others, and this is where small town main streets can fill an important void.
Small towns can once again become the gathering places they once were. And as people visit to dine or enjoy the arts, they will be exposed to the specialty shops in proximity to them. Soon, there will be a widening ripple of economic growth and an increased interest in reasonably priced housing, and the decline in population will turn into an increase and that will contribute to a growing economy.
We can do this, Small Town America. In Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania, the revolution has already started.