Category Archives: keeping it local

i live in a small town

pushing throughAhhh small towns, they are wonderful pieces of Americana that, as I have written many times before, seem to be giving way to corporate. That’s where I live, in a small town, New Iberia, Louisiana, a little community that grew up along the Bayou Teche. I am not native to here and neither is my husband, he is from Miami Beach, but we have lived here a long time and  have raised our family here.We are small business owners  also and are always so happy to see the loyal support our community gives local businesses, maintaining some of our  quintessential small town individuality. Anyway, it’s been a nice place to raise our family and continues to be a nice place to be a small business owner.

There are two institutions in this town that I feel an enormous amount of gratitude and indebtedness to, Clementine’s Restaurant and the Iberia Performing Arts League, better known as IPAL to us locals. Both of these hometown establishments have provided wonderful developmental experiences for all five of my children and for that, I am so thankful. Wayne Peltier, owner of Clementine’s, kept my four teenage sons busy on many weekends during high school doing catering jobs on site for Peltier’s and then later, at Clementine’s Restaurant. He hired them at 16 years old with absolutely no experience, their first jobs. I am certain they must have made many mistakes in those early days of employment that paralleled those dubious days of high school  and even in the latter days with experience  but he never made them feel anything but good about themselves, even after major blunders, and there were plenty of those. Wayne Peltier is a former teacher and I think he has never forgotten how critical those times in youth are, how influential the adults are in your life and the experiences that shape you. I cannot speak for anyone else, but for me, he was a wonderful first employer for, and later, a wonderful friend to my four sons.

 The amazing people at IPAL embraced my 13 year old daughter during her first performance of Oklahoma and gave her such a positive perception of Community Theater and the arts. She was able to meet and work with some exceptional personalities and I hope, made some lifelong friends. As Doc Voorhies told me once, “We watched her grow up in the theater”. I will always cherish those words, those people, and those times.

As a mom and teacher, I cannot place enough value on people and places within a community that help with the development of our youth. I believe it is so essential for our small communities to support one another and to pay special attention to our youth; it is cliché’ but, they are the future. And they can be so fragile and misguided in an environment of negativity.

My family owns a small business in town and we too employ youth and are for the most part, their first employers. These kids are minimum wage workers that are, like my kids were, usually inexperienced. They are servers that serve you, the customer. And while, as business owners, we want your experience to always be ideal, sometimes it is not. Just as sometimes you miss the mark, they do also. We have had many moments at our store when it was so incredibly busy that all sense of order was obliterated – for those of you who have never worked in the food industry, I am here to tell you it can be very hectic and frenzied. For the most part, thankfully, our customers are very understanding. They know we are working as hard as we can and are polite to our employees and to us. Sometimes, unfortunately, we have a customer that is not and the server is sadly and consequently demoralized. We have, on occasion, had customers call us privately to tell us about their negative experience and we are always grateful for their input- it’s the sort of criticism that can cause positive results instead of crushing consequences.

It’s tough running a small town business in this era of “big box” but it is so beneficial to a community to keep things local and to create uniqueness – something that is sadly disappearing along the byways and highways of our country.

Again, a public thank you to Wayne Peltier, owner of Clementine’s, and the kindred spirits that comprise IPAL for all you have done and continue to do for our youth and our community. These are the types of places and organizations that keep small towns alive and help to shape our youth and grow our communities. I write this just to emphasis their value and perhaps raise a bit of awareness.

2012

2012

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keeping it local

As I write, Elizabeth and I have been home for two days and the suitcases are, mostly, unpacked and the laundry, mostly, is done. Whew! I remember the days of family vacations and coming home with 7 suitcases of clothes to be washed, groceries to be bought, souvenirs to sort, and five small kids to see about. This was nothing like that – only myself and one little girl, ahhh. A bit poignant but, physically much easier.

 Anyway, my thoughts are all rattling around in some incoherent pattern right now – this trip was colossal and, for me, profound.To reference my mom, travel is the best education of all. I think I have made discoveries about things that have bewildered me in the past and I know I have grown from it. I have come back as a broader thinker and with a bigger heart, and that’s always desirable. I have seen so many aspects of society on this trip – from the working poor in New York City to the “old money” in New England and all in between and along the peripheral.

a cafe
Things are very different in the Northeast than here in the South. Some of the things, I have to admit, I prefer and other situations perhaps not so much. I prefer the resistance to corporations there. Many of the people in New England towns revere their heritage and therefore continue to support their communities; they do not give their dollars to the chains, they buy services and goods from their neighbors – it is a beautiful thing to see. The local diners and cafes are crowded; they are places where you know the owners and the food, for the most part, is not trucked in from yet another corporation, it’s grown by a neighbor or purchased from a local business. It just feels right.

just someone’s house along the sidewalk of Concord
part of Thoreau’s heirloom garden at The Old Manse
 As we traveled further north into Vermont, this phenomenon became even more apparent, these guys are serious about keeping it local. Elizabeth and I never saw a bill board splattered with propaganda, golden arches, Wally Worlds or anything “big box”. Instead we ate at Helen’s Place in Concord MA and met Helen and sat amongst the locals and absorbed their culture and understood the value of “heritage” a bit more. We bought our books at the local bookstore and shopped for (locally grown) produce at a Main Street market – it’s what everyone did and was able to do because of the choices they have made. I was so fascinated with their efforts to keep it local and so stunned with the extreme and somewhat exclusive presence of corporate as I drove home – hundreds of billboards telling me what to do while taking my money out of my community.

flowers in Woodstock, Vermont
just someone’s garden
a revolution
 As an observer, I have drawn a bit of a conclusion as to why this works “up there”. First, they seem to be committed to preserving their heritage and secondly, they don’t seem as driven to consume. They do not tear down old structures and build bigger ones, they reuse what history has left and redo with character and craftsmanship and creativity. I did not see signs with “land for sale” littering the towns .Actually, one of the locals in Concord told us of the efforts made by the state of Massachusetts to reforest. This was told to us as we were touring the Old Manse and looking out the window towards the old bridge where the shot was fired that began the American Revolution – it was explained to us that then, the landscape was clear and you could see into town, but since the reforesting, trees have grown and altered the landscape. What a wonderful thing to do – paths through the woods to walk and run on and green spaces to enjoy and share with your community (a community of both humans and small animals) right in the middle of town.  

Enough of this free flow of words. I don’t want to sound negative towards other places in the country but I did want to express how in awe I was of communities sticking by one another and supporting each other. Keeping it local is nothing but a win. I am as guilty as you, I have tags that do not say “Made in the USA” but this trip has raised my awareness level and proved to me that communities do not have to succumb to the big box stores and national chains – they can keep their money in house. I would be fooling myself to think I could immediately be 100% on board with “local” but I do know I can do better, one shop at a time.

Strawberry Fields Central Park NYC

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