Letter to the Editor:
Recently, my wife and I traveled from Michigan to Southern Missouri to look for real estate. Having recently retired, with no further requirement to reside in the frozen tundra of Michigan, it was decided we should look for a new home somewhere closer to our children (Hannibal, St. Louis and Dallas).
Having lived in Missouri most of my civilian life, Missouri was the place to be, preferably the southern half. After lengthy discussion, we decided to take a road trip to Southern Missouri, south of Springfield in the Ozark Area and the Branson Area. We looked at several properties, and found one that suited us both, close to Republic.
We had a down day in Branson during our stay and we decided to run over to Rockbridge for lunch (site of family reunions and “guy” gathering for several years). As the roads do dictate, we came upon Ava. Given the fact that Ava was the home of my childhood (AHS graduate of 1966) we decided to take a swing through Ava, just because…………….
As you old timers like me can remember, being a kid living in Ava in the 50’s and the 60’s was fascinating. We had County Fairs, Rodeos, Horse shows and little league baseball (go Haynes Sinclair Oilers).
We went camping, fishing, hunting, hiking and all the outdoor excitement a child could withstand.
The center of our town’s existence was the Ava Square. I remember that everything a kid could ever need was around the Square. There was the Dairy Queen, where I had my first cherry Coke. Across the street was Mr. Spurlock’s Corner Store, which had the greatest pin ball machines in existence. On down was Harley Brother’s, which my mother use to love to go to.
This was a town square that had two dime stores, on the same side of the square. That was during the time that you could really buy something of value for a dime.
On another corner, there was the Rexall Drug Store. I use to go in there and look at magazines as well as pay a dime to use their phone. On down the block was House’s Shoe Store and Carps. Many a pair of shoes and boots were purchased at House’s, both new and used.
Stuck in the next corner was the barber shop that I would periodically receive my crew cut and occasional flat top (what a look!). Across the street was the Citizens Bank of Ava, which I believe everyone in Ava must have done all of their banking.
And of course, right off of the square were those establishments that were just as important to us as kids and adults of the 50’s and 60’s.
For the adults there was Lethco Sales and Kerr-Gaston Chevrolet and the various gas stations that supported those new vehicles, such as Pool’s Fina Station, Haynes Sinclair (go oilers) and Rigg’s Standard Station.
The Square was also the center of entertainment, especially for teenagers. The Avalon Theatre was close by where you could buy a ticket for fifty cents. Of course the square was always there for cruising, generally two abreast but sometimes three. A teenage boy could take his best girl out for no more than ten dollars, spending about two dollars for the show (with popcorn and a coke) after filling up his Dad’s car or pick-up at $.25 per gallon of gas.
Bottom line, everything anyone wanted or needed in or around Ava was either available on the Ava Square or down the street from the center of town (remembering that Ava isn’t that big……………)
As we entered town on our recent trip, it was my intention to take my wife to a really nice little sandwich shop on the square that I had frequented several times during visits and passing thru on fishing trips. To my disappointment, it was no longer there. The old Rexall drug store on the corner was once again vacant. In an attempt to “regroup” we cruised the square a couple of times, which unfortunately generated more disappointment. It appears that there are more vacant store fronts on the Square than I have ever seen in the 50 or so years since I left home.
We drove on thru town and finally ended up at Pizza Hut for lunch. After lunch, further exploration revealed the underlying “problem”. The economic center of Ava had generally shifted northward toward the intersection of highways 5 and 14. And at the center of that, was Wal-Mart. Don’t get me wrong, I like Wal-Mart, a lot. Not just because it has a little bit of everything one might need, but because it is a tremendous economic generator within the community, as well as the Country. However, as I have experienced throughout rural America, the installation of a Wal-Mart or other big box retailer tends to draw business from the central core of a community. I lived in Hannibal, Missouri for 12 years where the same thing happened. Moving to Michigan, I was a hospital consultant to small, rural community Hospitals, where I saw it happening in those communities as well. It is very hard for a Mom and Pop store to compete with the big box retailers.
Although the demise of the downtown areas are similar throughout the Country, what is not necessarily similar is the continued stagnation (sorry for that harsh word, but……).
In many of the rural communities I have referenced above, there has been a resurgence of economic activity in the downtown areas. I look to Hannibal as an example, or Sturgis, Michigan, and several other communities.
The question would arise, “What made the difference between Ava’s downtown area and these others who successfully rehabbed their core”?
I don’t know.
I do know that each of these successful communities had cooperation. Cooperation between the property owners of vacant facilities, and successful businesses in the communities, cooperation with the City, County and State political officials.
Some communities approach the State’s Higher Education Facilities to assist in the endeavor to achieve rehabilitation (Missouri State University-my alma mater, Mizzou, Drury University, etc.)
Having been on a city council in a Missouri community, I do know that cooperation between the City/County, and the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Program, the City / County Development Corporation (or Re-Development) and various other programs are of extreme importance in re-developing a downtown area. The media, banking and local churches have to be equal members of the pursuit to redevelop a community.
During our drive back to our Branson Hotel, my wife and I discussed the situation about the city square quite a bit. We thought, “wouldn’t it have been nice to stop at a restaurant for a quick sandwich, had a beer or glass of wine and discussed the day’s events”? We decided that bottom line, resources must be made available to attract entrepreneurs to the area of the City Square. Appropriate properties at reasonable rental rates to attract someone who wants to build. Access to capital. Opportunity to develop. Finally, Community Support has to be part of the equation to assist in the success of such an endeavor.
Ava has several opportunities that can be utilized to attract new business to the square. Ava is a growing community that is located in the middle of very attractive geography. The lakes, the creeks, reasonably priced real estate, close to major metro area that has great health care and higher education. It has the Annual Missouri Fox Trotter Celebration, the Flaming Fall Review (sic), the County Fair and certainly regional and local activities that I am not aware of that can attract new customers.
It is not necessarily a matter of attracting outsiders to the community, but also to attract citizens of the community to new opportunities for dining and shopping that don’t currently exist. It’s not necessarily a matter of attracting new business to a 20 acre development, it’s a matter of attracting someone to an existing property that would benefit from redevelopment.
I wish I had the where withal to assist directly in this re-development. Unfortunately, I only have ideas. Thanks for “listening”
(By the way, the real estate deal in Republic fell through, so we are still looking)
David B. Miller