I grew up in a town -
heck, and entire state - that
relies heavily on tourism
and retirees for its economic
While my hometown is in Northwest Florida, rather than that vast stripmall/ amusement/park/ nightclub we liked to call “the other Florida,” the town still catered to the tourists who brought their vacation-driven need to spend and retirees who brought handsome next eggs.
The powers that be considered the future of the town, and decided to outsource, relying on people and money from other places to keep its economic engines running. The town had a long tradition of outsourcing its future, from it’s earliest formation as a Spanish colony (or is that in-sourcing?) to the town it had become when I left - a town which eagerly planned a waterfront sports attraction while its teachers were some of the lowest paid and its students some of the lowest performing in the nation. We had a saying in Florida: Thank God for Mississippi.
The problem with outsourcing your future has become pretty evident over the past year. It doesn’t take much (just a few dozen bank closures, is all) for nest eggshells to get a little brittle and for people to start scaling back their vacations.
Suddenly, the restaurants and theaters are empty, while the car lots are full. The newspaper where I used to work - a paper that had served the community since the late 1800s - now operates on a skeleton crew and can’t even afford to run its own press any longer. It sends its pages 60 miles away to be printed on a former competitor’s press.
I hate to say it, but I’m glad I’m not there to see what’s happening. And I hope that all the buzz about supporting local food, services and goods will take root in my hometown, and they’ll start investing in their most precious local resource: People and ideas and ingenuity.
Ironically, as reports from old friends back in Florida have given me cause for pessimism, things here in my new home are filling me with hope. Things just keep getting more interesting here.
Of course, there has always been a lot to love about this area. Beyond baseball and the beautiful countryside, there is Glimmerglass Opera, the Fenimore Art Museum, The Farmers’ Museum and a handful of smaller museums, historical sites and arts groups that have long been reliable springs for cultural refreshment.
But those pools of music, theater and art seem to have started swelling and overflowing their banks.
The Smithy-Pioneer Gallery is proving that you can bring some seriously new culture to a town’s oldest building.
The “Fen & Farm” (short for Fenimore and Farmers’) has continued hosting some wonderful cultural events, such as the Cooperstown Chamber Music Festival, as well as a stunning season of exhibits at the art museum, including Walker Evans photography and “America’s Rome.”
They’ve also added summer immersive daycamp experiences for kids at The Farmers’ Museum, art classes for kids at the Feminore Art Museum and great events such as Taste of the Sublime. (Full disclosure: my husband works there, and I am friends with many of the other folks there, so I have first-hand knowledge of just how dedicated and passionate they are about what the museums stand for.)
Just a few miles south of Cooperstown, Foothills Performing Arts Center is bringing in one amazing act after another from NYC and all over the country. Under new leadership, the team there has focused its mission on providing theater and entertainment that is just not available in this community. (More disclosure: Foothills is a client of my company, and we are honestly humbled by the work they’re doing. Instead of maintaining the status quo and wishing for the staff and money to run the type of venue they dream of, they jumped in and did it. And if it means their executive director is clearing martini glasses at Thursday’s cabaret night, that’s what they’re committed to doing.)
And now, just outside of Cooperstown, the new Rangjung Yeshe Gomde meditation center has opened under the leadership of Phakchok Rinpoche. The center’s first weeklong retreat will happen Aug. 30 through Sept. 5.
Honestly, I could go on and on. Every day, it seems like I see one more activity, event or exhibition that makes me slap my forehead and say, “What a great idea.”
But what’s most exciting is that, in our modern economy, it’s going to be the innovative, creative and collaborative communities that thrive, not just as tourist destinations but as hubs for innovation, creativity and collaboration. They become the kind of place people want to raise their families because of the opportunities, not in spite of the lack of opportunities.
For all the uncertainty in the world, this is an exciting time to be here in this community. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Elizabeth Trever Buchinger loves a smorgasbord of choice. You can connect with her at www.moremindfulfamily.wordpress.com.