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Spring Break 2010: Day three

We did a lot of raking today at Huss School. I’m beginning to realize the scale of this place because I continually underestimate the amount of stuff in the building or on the land. For example, I looked at the front yard today and thought, “There aren’t that many leaves here; we can probably finish this in a few hours.” Well, at the end of our work period, we weren’t quite finished and we had a mountain of leaves collected in a new compost pile on the south side of the gym. The largeness of the building and the yard make everything look small in comparison. I suppose that’s a good thing to learn, for all kinds of reasons!
Today’s afternoon conversations were really good and informative. We started with a quick tour of a few local businesses in Three Rivers, talking to Tom Lowry at Lowry’s Books, Bruce Monroe at the Riviera Theatre, Caryn Wilson at Voyager’s Inn and Peggy Deames at Love Your Mother. Each had really interesting observations about running a business in a small town and being committed to this particular place at this particular time. Tom talked a bit about the history of the Three Rivers downtown district: how malls completely changed the landscape and drove out businesses that had operated downtown for decades; how Wal-Mart changed the business landscape again, closing several local stores; and how a vast majority of business attempts simply don’t make it at all. The numbers are pretty daunting. 80% of businesses fail within the first five years and, of those that succeed, another 80% fail in the next five years–leaving a 4% success rate after ten years. And small businesses fail for all kinds of reasons, only a few of them financial. Almost every business owner we spoke to recognized these odds and chose to start a business anyway–many of them in middle of one of the worst recessions our nation has ever experienced. These folks really know how to live into hope, disregarding all evidence pointing the other direction.
We concluded the afternoon with a panel discussion featuring several local journalists: Elena Hines from the Commercial-News, Helen McCauslin from Day by Day in Fabius (a daily photo blog), Bruce Snook from River Country Journal, and Buck Hicks from the Liberty 1st forum. We had a great conversation about the possibilities and drawbacks of both online and print media, the way information spreads around the community and is discussed, and the power of the media to tell some stories while missing others (particularly in relation to race). We really enjoyed the conversation and it was great to get all of those folks in the same room talking about what they do in the community.