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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Canon City, Colorado: Queene Anne Prime Rib House Opening in 2018--YUM!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Kindness Story--I'm Not Too Worried About The Younger Generation

I'm not too worried about the younger generation. Today I pulled up at the gas station that has a free air machine.

I saw a young man, perhaps age 11 or so, filling the air in his bicycle tires. I turned off my engine and waited. I couldn't be sure, but it seemed he rushed when he saw I was waiting.

Now this young man, and I do mean man, had no idea that as an older woman--it's been several decades since I've put air in my tires. I am not helpless, but was feeling a bit of anxiety with my squishy tires and not remembering how to put air in tires.

I attempted to put air in the first tire and had totally forgotten about the young man. But he was at a distance watching me, apparently. He yelled, "Do you need some help?"

I told him, embarrassingly enough, I probably did. No matter how I positioned the thing, no air seemed to be getting in.

He assessed the situation and asked me if I had a tire gauge, since the air machine didn't have one. I said no. He said he'd be glad to run into the gas station and buy one. I was so stunned that a stranger would offer that. I told him I would do it. I walked a few yards, turned around and asked, "What is your favorite snack?" It was his turn to be stunned. He hesitated for a moment. Now, sadly, in today's age--even though I am decent with everyone, especially animals and children,  it's strange for a stranger adult to buy candy for a child. That's why I intentionally used the word: Snack.

That wasn't why he hesitated though. He was just surprised someone wanted to return a kindness.

"Skittles," he said, when I made clear by my facial expression I wanted to show appreciation.

I got the gauge and the Skittles.

He thanked me profusely for the Skittles and I said,"You are a kind man, a kind young man, and you deserve Skittles and much more in this life."

He got busy filling my tire to the exact correct pressure, and gently instructed me on how it all worked. It came back to me, and I was confident I could do the other tire, even though he kept asking if I had another tire that needed air.

I told him I think I remembered now. But this young man took off, but stayed close enough on his bike to make sure I got it. And I had forgotten my glasses, and couldn't read the gauge anyway. So, it turns out I did need his help again.

I was pretty embarrassed, but this young man showed no impatience or even a hint of contempt that someone would forget their glasses and forget about tire gauges and such. He said the second tire has almost zero air and was happy when he got it exactly right, once again.

He complimented my car. I asked him what kind of car he would have someday, when he could. "A Toyota. I like Toyotas!"

He was still on his bike watching me, eating his Skittles, as I pulled away. "Thanks again for the Skittles!"

"No, thank YOU."

This kid has a servant's heart. He was so thrilled to get the tire pressure just right. I'll probably never see this kid again--but I imagine he will grow up and be a huge asset to his employer. And if he decides to be a family man--an even bigger asset to the world.

No, where there is such kindness, delight in helping others and doing a thing right--I am not too worried about the younger generation.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Scary? Rancho Tehama Reserve Tehama County Northern California Shooting

Imagine my shock a few hours ago when I read about the mass shooting at Rancho Tehama Reserve in Tehama County.

I was very familiar with that community in the 1980s when I lived in one of the closest towns to that place. I lived in Tehama County for 15 years and covered news for a small newspaper for six of those years.

And Rancho Tehama Reserve was on our radars. But we didn't feel like getting our asses shot off.

Don't get me wrong. I am ALL for responsible gun rights. Yes, Tehama County was and is a conservative place. That's NOT my bone to pick with the place.

Unless you dropped by Rancho Tehama and/or visited with some of their residents--you don't know this part of northern California. I always called Tehama County the OTHER California.

I was considered part of the honest media back then. Still would be, I suppose. People from all sides would drop me notes thanking me for covering their stories just the way they happened. For that reason I was invited in places most "media" might not. Of course, I was rather a shy and average looking female with a kindly face and no agenda.

But we did not publish a lot of what I covered. Because we were dishonest? No. It was just too risky.

I am only recounting what I experienced in the 1980s. Perhaps the place is different now.

First I was invited to a house meeting by a group of patriots. I was up for that, since I always considered myself a patriot. In a room adjoining our large meeting table, there was a collection of assault rifles and other weapons. I had never seen that many guns in one place.

I was the only female at the meeting. They laid out their plans. Some of it I agreed with personally. Some I did not. But I wasn't there to agree or disagree. But it turns out they had a reason for having me there. They wanted me to start a patriot newspaper. They did not believe in paying ANY taxes. Even though I have some very conservative Libertarian views--I enjoy paying taxes and driving on roads and having law enforcement show up when I need them.

Some of these men were from Rancho Tehama and some lived in the neighboring town. When I say neighboring, that's a stretch. Rancho Tehama is in the boondocks.

We parted ways pleasantly and I never got a story out of it. Why was I going to write a story about a group of men with an arsenal that, in my opinion, were attempting to start a militia or shadow government-type organization in Tehama County?

Surprisingly most of the men were fairly well educated and well versed in philosophy and spiritual concepts. I was very young at the time and didn't quite understand the whole thing, but I knew enough to know I wouldn't be real comfy working with folks who used assault rifles as wall decorations.

Again, I am not against guns. I was raised in a military family.

The newspaper's next brush with someone from Rancho Tehama came from an odd gentleman who came down from the hills to introduce himself. He had formed a militia up there. But he had another name for it. I can't recall the name, but it had something to do with a volunteer force of people that carried guns and would come down to the other towns and protect people and do search and rescues.

I dutifully took his picture and wrote a brief story about his venture. He wore a gun belt. Open carry. Not even sure about the gun laws back then.

I was in my early 20s at the time and too ignorant to be overly alarmed. But my interim news editor, a man in his 40s who had been around the block a few times, told me he was frightened. "This guy just comes strolling into town like it's the wild West with his gun. I pity the day he walks into one of the banks. He looks like the type who would and wouldn't understand why anyone would be alarmed."

This was a small newspaper and we didn't have a lot of man or woman power. But what we did have was quite a few interested citizens who were either retired or self-employed minimally and had some time on their hands.

It wouldn't have been considered that safe for me to go into Rancho Tehama to see who really lived there and what was going on. So I asked an older gentleman to check into who this militia really was and who these people were.

I'll call the guy, Mark, who I asked to gather information. Mark was a nosy guy and relished the task. He came back after several weeks and said some of my questions about them did lead to white supremacist groups and KKK.

Let's just say that Mark and the news editor decided to let sleeping dogs lie. When someone drops into your office to say hi and always pats their gun, that just seems wise.

Now, if someone looks into the history of Rancho Tehama as already covered by media that had more resources--in more recent years--one will see the place has quite the history with violence and guns, considering the small population of the place.

If someone looks into the entire history of Tehama County over semi-recent years... Eye opening.

When I was covering crime in the 1980s there, it was appalling. At that time, the county had a total of 17 homicides in one year--and a population of just about 40,000.

Not that many years ago, Tehama County had a crime rate (per capita) higher than the bigger metro areas.

Am I slamming this county that I spent 15 years in? No. There were and still are great people there. I have family and friends there.

But, totally unrelated to Rancho Tehama, I witnessed a lot of crime there. Not only covering it. Living it--or rather attempting to escape it.

One of my best friends, a lady with three children, was murdered in Tehama County by a pedophile, who had been the best man at her wedding.

I was almost murdered, as a teenager.

I was actually planning to go into law enforcement before I accidentally got into the news business and spent time as an Explorer with the Tehama County Sheriff's Office. Some great people there, who were great mentors. Imagine my shock, shortly after leaving the program (on good terms) to see the media break wide open the corruption in that office, and mentioning names of officers I was friendly with. Sexual things. Theft, etc.

Yes, Tehama County had and probably has a huge drug problem. I know it for a fact and got caught up in it--not from doing drugs. It was just fairly impossible not to live there and not somehow have it touch your life.

And today I mourn the lives lost in the Rancho Tehama Reserve. And I applaud the efforts of law enforcement. I don't let the past color how I feel about law enforcement.

I don't have the answers about gun control. I just feel fortunate to have escaped this county with both good and bad memories.

But to me it was all about a mindset--and perhaps that mindset bordered on mental illness. It's taken me decades to process sitting across the table from those patriot-militia folks and process their mindsets.

Please, I love patriots. I am a patriot. I am just using the terms they used for themselves. Their mindsets were different. They way they thought about the government and women and children, etc.

Now, remember, back then I wasn't a well-formed conservative, etc. But I always had conservative and traditional views. So when someone approaches you and speaks the language of liberty, freedom, patriotism--you listen. And they had some good ideas. But if you REALLY listen (which was my job and my innate nature) I could see the difference in mindsets. The paranoia.

If I got one thing out of sitting with the guys over many meetings and informal chats, was the content of people's characters. You can preach some of the things I believe in--but if you treat your family like crap, I don't care about your ideals, even if I agree with some of them.

The leader of this particular group had a verbally beaten down wife. I could tell, but had no proof, until one day I dropped by at his request and he just blurted out that his wife was unhappy with some of his activities and attitudes." I told her she shouldn't let the screen door hit her in the ass as she was leaving if she didn't like it," he told me.

Hmmm, you can't publish stuff like that--unless you want your ass shot off.

So, I came out of this microcosm of crazy and came to the conclusion that this isn't necessarily a right or left problem. It's a mindset problem. I had to chuckle sometimes, when I'd have healthy disagreements with these guys, attempting to see if I even WANTED to start a newspaper for them--and they'd get rather nasty with me.

It's a mental health problem. If folks were trying to get me on their side, they couldn't even put their guns and rude verbal assaults aside long enough to convince me. Overall they treated me well enough until they found out I didn't want to do it. But there was always the underlying attitude that even though they considered I had "skills" that would serve them--I was an ignorant woman that should not disagree with them.

You see, I don't have a lot of formal training as a news writer or general writer--even though I did it for years on and off. But one journalism teacher taught me that no matter how YOU feel about the people or subjects you are covering--no one should be able to tell that in your NEWS writing. In an editorial, sure.

And I gave the militia, shadow government guys their due by listening respectfully. Just as I would anyone.

And that's my mindset. Both sides have good ideals. But I really can't listen to ideals IF the mindset is full of rage and doing something at all costs.

And that is what I learned in my years in Tehama County. Fun times.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Florence, Colorado: Paint The Town With Plenty Of Air

Most everyone knows about the Florence Arts Council, Paint The Town event.

It's also called the Plein Air Art Festival. And some of the most talented artists roam the streets of Florence and surrounding areas and paint under pressure with plenty of aire, as I like to say.

But what you might not know is that I heard a rumor today from one of the town's painters that he was coming back tomorrow to paint our front window at the antiques mall.

I wondered why. We always try to do an interesting window that either gives people a chuckle or a happy feeling. Why you ask? Because we can. And because we are naughty minxes that like to entertain ourselves.

The artist said he would paint from outside and not sit in the window to paint. Actually I would have enjoyed seeing that. We could act all French (like plein aire) and pretend the artist in the window was like one of those cool animated department store windows I saw when I was in Paris.

I still couldn't figure out why anyone would want to paint our front window. Then I remembered, with horror and shame, that I had slipped a sign in the window that I found in one of our dealer's booths.

Pictured below. Don't hate me. But come on, admit it, you'll want to go to the Bell Tower Cultural Center and see the artist's rendering of this little naughty minx travesty I committed so long ago that I forgot about it.

Why People Need Small-town America & How To Promote It For Almost Free

In the last two blog posts, I recounted  the ways I've seen two small towns NOT promote their jewels of towns to the best advantage. So, now onto the silver lining. Why do people want to come to small-town America?

Since only about 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas and small towns, how do these towns with scant economic bases even let people know they are there?

First, why would people want to leave their larger hometowns and come to smaller towns? I can only go by what hundreds of people have told me and what I've overheard them say as they stroll the streets.

My favorite was hearing a man in his 20s say to his wife as they were pushing a stroller with their baby. "See, this is exactly what I needed. Exactly what I was talking about. Quiet streets. Peaceful."

Funny since men are sometimes not well known for  thinking it's always fun to stroll quiet streets lined with boutique shops, antique stores and quaint eateries.

My favorite thing about small-town America is all the apple orchards, pumpkin patches and you-pick berry fields and corn mazes. And being able to see baby goats and llamas and horses and even cows when running an errand. In the bigger cities those things are there, just harder to find. And the meadows and wide open spaces. Less crime. More time to talk to people in shops and restaurants because it's less crowded.

Heck, yeah! It's about joy. And apparently jumping the pumpkin. If I tried doing the splits over a pumpkin patch, I'm sure I'd slip my disco.

We need small-town America. And it's fun to talk to the people who grow the apples, pumpkins and other goodies. It's satisfying to talk to the people who harvested the honey you are buying or created the artwork or handcraft you are purchasing.

It's all about the story and connection. Sure, that happens in big cities, just in a different way and atmosphere. And the people I talk to want to hear the story behind what they are buying or seeing and meet the people behind it.

I've watched the tale of two small cities struggle with how to promote themselves on little to no budgets with personal issues in the mix.

And hundreds of people have told me they are a bit miffed they did not know about the second small city sooner and stumbled across it by accident.

People are always looking for a different experience and perspective even if they love the town they live it. It's almost a travesty that treasures often remain mostly hidden in small towns all across the country and wonderful businesses struggle.

One business owner told me that they have never made a profit in all the years they've been in business, because the people just don't know about the town. That it's not on the way to anywhere major and it's not a total tourist destination.

I say--enough of that.

There are people in tiny towns all across America who finally realized they just needed to keep doing what they were doing for decades, band together and tell the world about it. There are towns that were market towns for over a century and then someone came up with a twist and started an open air market or flea market that draws hundreds of thousands of people a year.

Build it and they will come. If they know about.

Here's some of the problems I've witnessed or heard about in my two small towns. No budget. People don't want change.  People can't agree on what to do.Egos. Power struggles. Not enough money for a full-time Chamber of Commerce or  visitor center person. Not enough money for advertising, signage, etc.

And here's some of the solutions I've either witnessed, heard people come up with or have come up with myself.

*People don't have to all agree on what the town will do--just a core group of people that don't let personality issues, egos or religious or political disagreements stop them from doing good on behalf of a whole town's health. Don't grow the town in size necessarily--grow it in events, festivals and showcasing of what is already there.

*Money should never be an issue. If there are not enough people to man the phones for a Chamber or visitor's center--tap into the high school or local college. Arrange for students to volunteer their time and talents for either credit at school or to bolster their future resumes. Tapping the Senior Centers and civic groups leads to reaping decades of wisdom and business acumen.

*Also tap into students to send out press releases and free calendar events to newspapers and magazines. Many students would jump at the chance to benefit their town if it would lead to increased business and help their families, or help them stay in town after graduation.

*Make your event or services your shops, businesses and eateries offer so compelling that the media comes to you. If you donate even a small portion to charity or a non-profit, media outlets are more inclined to do a story about the event or business.

*Think big in a small town. All someone can say is no. If you have something interesting happening--there is no reason not to contact travel magazines and lifestyle editors across the country. Their readers are often looking for some experiences that sometimes only a small town can offer.

*Find the right people in the town for the job. Pick someone (generally just one or two people) that are confident and come across well on camera. Local news station are often looking for a lively filler story on a slow news day about an event told by the spokesperson that speaks professionally and has a sense of humor. Then pick one person to field the print media--and have that person equipped with the correct information for the media, such as who to interview on each specific story. Have those people always be the contact people for the media, so they can build a relationship with the media and each side can call on the other when they either need a story or want to tell a story. If the contact people change, inform the media of that and introduce the new person in a brief email or phone call. It's all about relationships, even in bigger cities and the media.

*Come up with that fundraiser that will get the media's attention. People like feel-good stories to counteract all the serious news. Create a calendar or other salable item that promotes the event or cause that is humorous, heartwarming or interesting.

*The people that get publicity are usually the ones that ask for it. Either by asking directly or creating an event or item that draws positive attention. It's really that simple.

*There are many little-known ways to get free TV commercials that broadcast to many households by nominating businesses. The production people will come to you, for free. Others will charge, but keep playing the videos for free after the initial charge--and there are ways to get those videos shot economically and then promote them on social media and websites. And most high schools and colleges have video equipment and talented students looking for an opportunity to promote their town and own abilities.

*There are many lesser-known TV travel shows that are always accepting ideas for their crews to come film in off-the-beaten track locations.

*It's appropriate to present the positive things about one's town and/or event as a travel destination. But don't be alarmed if someone in the media asks about the negative things in the town's history or present. There needs to be a counterbalance in most every story. Those negative things (such as past injustices, power struggles, crime, corruption, economic downturns, water issues, crumbling infrastructure, etc.) can be used to show how a town righted wrongs or overcame challenges in a positive way.

*The core of many small towns is its agriculture. Farm to table and agri-tourism are the trendy words now. But it's what many small towns were founded on--and they don't need to change a thing, except getting cohesive on how they present. Have maps and brochures that list every winery,corn maze, alpaca farm, apiary, organic vegetable garden, etc. that are open to the public. Get those maps to every business, appropriate venue and visitors center, airport, train station, etc. across the state. Again tap into high school, college students and seniors and have them attend marketing seminars, symposiums and other related events with the maps and the STORY of their town.

It's all about the story. It's so simple. What story will small-town America tell about itself? Will it tell the story of whining about flower baskets--or will it tell the story of it's rich history, ethnic backgrounds, agriculture, festivals and fiercely independent small businesses? And will it use the diversity of its town--including seniors and students--to tell that story in such a compelling way that people can't help but notice.

Will the story, as old as America, be told of small towns pulling them up by their bootstraps--or descending into a maelstrom of pity and negativity?

You know which story I am rooting for that is told about small-town America!

p.s. AND get your town on social media! I have few followers, but within minutes of Tweeting these posts I had retweets and marketing and agriculture people following me on Twitter. When I asked one business owner, who was the one who initially asked for help, why most local business owners did not tweet, blog or Facebook much--I was told they were too busy running their business. Then get someone else to volunteer to do it.

AND in my opinion, every small town should have a community blog where people are invited to tell their STORIES about their businesses, events and what's special about their town and what it is like to live in rural America. I don't promote my blog (or myself) except with an occasional tweet and people still find it--the counter at the top left shows we are closing in on 100,000 hits. I've proven it. It's all about the story. Just tell it!

A Tale Of Two Cities: How NOT To Promote Small-Town America (Part 2)

Lesson one: Whine about who will water the damn flower baskets. Refer to Part 1 of this series.

The tale of the first city took many years to promote itself and almost blighted financial conditions to use the resources they already had.

Now I am in the second small-town.

We moved here by choice. I don't believe in moving to a town, big or small (by choice) and then whining one's arse off about all the shortcomings.

But I do believe in learning a few lessons.

Let me backtrack. In the ensuing years since leaving the first small town, I lived in very big towns. I did some freelance writing for a weekly newspaper, a monthly newspaper and also a few stories promoting businesses for a magazine in Colorado Springs. I then wrote some stories for a national magazine that had been in business for almost a hundred years.

Writing doesn't pay much. So, in between I worked at a print shop and then went onto selling antiques and collectibles online.

I then went on to work in two antiques shops and finally landed at a third one, where I am very happy. It's the best of both worlds. I am in a position to talk with people all day long and you'll see some of their amazing stories on this blog. I had no idea one could enjoy a microcosm of people from all over the world in an antiques shop. And remember, I don't like being part of the story. I like telling other people's stories. That's why it took me awhile to write this story about two cities, because it's personal.

I had NO intention of ever getting involved in helping a small town promote itself. A business owner in the second small town, where I live now, told me they were very frustrated with not being able to get the amount of people to the town that was needed to be sustainable. This person had no idea I knew a little about how to get free publicity or self-market what you already have and get people interested with little expense.

The former business owner told me much money had been spent on advertising and promotions to almost no avail--over a decade or so. The person held an "office" in an organization that promoted local business, but the infighting was bad.

I casually remarked I might be able to assist, for free, but refused to get involved in any meetings, positions or infighting. The person told me to type up a page about myself and they would present it to the people in charge. I did so.

The person came back and said people almost clapped when they found out someone, who basically wanted to remain anonymous and didn't want money or recognition and would assist in getting free publicity. I said great and waited to hear from the person in charge.

A few months passed and I heard nothing. Nada. So I asked how to proceed. I was told to go to a certain business, since the owner was the president of the organization. The now former business owner I was working with was at one time second in charge.

So I went to the business and introduced myself. The president was out of the shop. This business is now defunct, but even if it wasn't I would not give total details, because it is not my intention to shine the light on specific people. Just to learn lessons on how NOT to promote small-town America.

I spoke to the person's spouse and adult child. The spouse actually started screaming at me--for no reason I could tell--at first. The spouse actually almost had an emotional meltdown and her adult child finally got her out of the shop. But her last words to me were,"Just go rouge!" What, am I Sarah Palin, I thought.

Go rogue. Why would I want to go rogue when all I went to a local shop to ask what I could do for THEM--meaning the whole town and them as an individual business, to get tourists more acquainted with the area?

Well, it took me years to realize the spouse was probably SO frustrated with roadblocks and issues in the town, totally unknown to me--that it was blasted and dumped on me.

So, I talked to the adult child alone who told me they had a marketing degree. Great! I deferred to that expertise and asked to get me set up with some tasks. Press releases? Getting a data base for all media in a several-state area? Writing about their specific business? I was at their service. Let me have a go at it--and if it works, great. If I fail, no one would lose a penny and I would do all the work in my spare time.

The response was: People of my generation.... Well, people of my generation....

Huh? The implication basically was I was too old to realize what was hip and cool and of no use to market this town.

I don't have much of an ego--and can accept people' opinions. Then the conversation got down to one of the things that was REALLY bothering the person: There were no single opposite sex people in the dump of a town. Oooh!

OK, so far in our marketing travails in how to NOT promote small-town America we've learned:

#1 Whine about who waters the flower baskets
#2 Bring your own personal emotional issues into logical discussions on how to help 
EVERYONE promote the town

I decided to mostly forget this unpleasantness and just "go rogue" by blogging about small-town America.

I have no ulterior motives. I just share people's stories and an occasional business story. I find it interesting. And I don't get paid for it, so no one can suggest I am doing it for fame or money, since I don't mention my name.

The blog did attract the attention of a print magazine--even though I have to be tracked down since I am semi-anonymous and have pen names for ID's and emails. The story is still in the works as far as I know. A story about small-town America--the joys and challenges and business identity.

That got me to thinking that perhaps the town is interesting to others. The town was interesting to me, but I can amused by watching paint dry, so it was a nice possibility to think outside folks might find it worthy of a story.

But before the magazine took interest in our town, I made one other attempt to assist. I was at a meeting for a local festival. I asked someone in a position of power if there was a data base somewhere of all media-- online, radio, magazines, TV and newspapers. I was actually snarled at. Even after I volunteered to compile one. I recently found out (from the former person in charge) who didn't know me at the time, that there was indeed such a data base. Odd since I rarely see any mention of our small town events in the free calendar of events sections of newspapers or magazines.

I told the former person in charge who told me they had to fight for everything that I had given up on any of these ideas. I was told," Don't give up on your ideas. Just give up on some of the people."

My, that sounded like some compelling advice for life in general.

So, the third lesson learned in how NOT to promote small-town America is: #3 Make it so difficult on people that they will give up free ideas to promote a town and give up on most of the people fighting ANY ideas.

Well, let's fast forward some more. You've read this far and you might be thinking: This person is just a high-falluting so-and-so who comes across as an idiot and sets people off to snarling and yelling.

That occurred to me. So, I asked a person at that meeting (after the meeting in private) where I was snarled at over a data base--and the person said it was NOT me, that they had run into the same problem and to just do my own thing. And then I asked another person, who works with me and is actually involved in many of these meetings--same answer basically.

Well, I have a problem doing my own thing. That isn't the point of promoting the value and treasures of a town and the people in that town.

This all came to a head for me today. The things I am recounting about the second small town actually transpired over the past several years. And I never felt compelled to tell anyone, except a few close friends about what happened--with no names mentioned.

But today someone brought up to me that there was big internal struggle going on. One that involved "imploding" and things that might affect the town's visibility and future nominal prosperity.

I listened. I asked a few questions. Then someone else came in on the conversation (off the street) and told the same story. It's always pretty easy to see the truth in a matter when you hear basically the same story from different people (that you don't even know or only know vaguely) over a long period of time and the stories match up.

Very sad. Even though I don't attend  these various meetings, I've attended enough in the first small town (as a reporter) to understand the dynamics. Egos. Warring factions. People wanting no changes. Others wanting change. Personal issues and frustrations being dumped in the public square that should have no bearing on what is healthy for a small town--or a town of any size. Refer to lesson #2 in how NOT to promote a small town.

Maybe because I was closely involved, yet objective, in the last small town--I see the middle ground. Some people do not want big changes and developments in their small towns. Others want radical changes. Both sides war.

A former person in charge of promoting the town (the one who said it was a fight for everything) had the same attitude I do. Don't attempt to make a small town a big town. Just have festivals and cultural events that bring people into town to shop and enjoy life without all the headaches of increasing infrastructure.

Today was rough. All so unnecessary. So, I asked what I could do (behind the scenes) to simply promote what was already here. I was told to go to a certain place. I said that was fine and good--but just showcasing one jewel of the town was not enough. I wanted to promote the whole town; give the whole picture. I was told it will never happen. I know what they meant--you cannot get everyone on board. But what I am suggesting is NOT radical. It is simply getting mostly free publicity for what is already here. With little expense.

I won't give details of the people I have been talking to--so all the events here are true, but certain details vague so no one will be identified.

I was asked about a certain non-profit group that really showcases some world-class events, etc.--but isn't getting the people in the doors on most of the events.

Easy. Network. Find compatible groups (theater, music, art, literacy programs, concerts groups, etc.) and offer a certain amount of free tickets to that non-profit organization and they do the same. It fills the seats. And spouses or guests of the free-ticket recipients have to pay. OR just give away all free tickets to other reputable groups and offer them an opportunity to purchase refreshments, a fundraising cookbook or a calendar or some keepsake of the evening's entertainment. It really isn't difficult. Most people when given something free for a good cause are more than willing to purchase an item in appreciation and support.

This doesn't make a small town grow sizewise or bring in crime or make radical changes.

And how do you get the attention of the media? Do something unusual. Just sending out a press release that there will be a concert, a business event or art showing is great. But just say someone promoting a group of artists decided to do a calendar featuring the artist doing something unusual or funny or a bit sassy? The media will come to you.

Say you produce a group's calendar for a nominal expense (since presumably there are artists and photographers willing to donate their services) and sell them to supporters and all those people you offered free tickets to. You have paid for your expenses and probably made a profit. And if the calendar was amusing or whatever, some people in the media would hunt you down and ask why you dressed an artist in a suit of armor with a welding torch. And then you garnered yourself some free publicity. And you also earned a relationship with someone in the media that you can call or write for the next event, showing or festival. Priceless.

My first small town was known as the capital of (fill in the blank with the name of the crop) but hardly anyone outside the town or the canning industry knew about it. The second town is also known as the capital of something. But almost everyday I have to tell visitors that. They are stunned (and delighted) to find it out.

Lesson #4: Make it really hard for people to know the identity of the town. Have few to no signs. Make sure there are no t-shirts or totes for sale celebrating this fact.

Lesson #5: Make sure money is always used as the reason why things can't happen. Don't look for free publicity or come up with all-inclusive projects the town can come up with for publicity (such as calendars) that will pay for itself and garner free publicity.

And lesson #6. My favorite. Recently a person who just moved into the area asked about a certain long-running festival. I went to the window to get a poster for the event and on many of the events it did not have the address or specific times. I was embarrassed even though I have nothing to do with any of the events.

The person said,"Oh, so this thing is just a locals' thing. So as long as the locals know, they don't mind that us newcomers don't know?"

Good Lord! I was mortified. I told her that when I moved to town, I had the same problem.
There was an event we wished to attend, but could not find which park or location or time it was. Just the day. I told her to check the local newspapers. But of course there were no local newspapers for sale within close proximity.

Lesson #6 Assume that no one new moves to the area. Or that people are driving through town and see a poster and are interested, but have no clue how to get there if there is no address, incomplete addresses and/or no minimal directions.

I am sure there are many, many other ways to NOT promote small-town America. I'm just sticking to the main ones I've lived the past few decades in two different states.

And yes, it was negative. That pains me. I have a nickname among close friends: Pollyanna.

So, in the next installment--I'll come at this from a more positive viewpoint that feels more comfortable to me.

I'll cover WHY people tell me they even want to come to small towns, when almost "everything" they could want is in the big towns they live in. And maybe all the things I've heard people tell me will result in the way TO promote small town America.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Tale Of Two Cities: How NOT To Promote Small-town America (Part1)

I am not a marketing expert. But maybe I understand how it works--at least in some small American towns.

Most know that small towns are facing struggles to stay economically viable.

Let me start in the first of two small towns that I have lived in and got to know very well.

The first town was in California. The "other" California as I always called, it. The California in the Central Valley where it feels like your brains will be baked by noon. Where the pollution is high, not from smog, but from all the pesticides in  one of the largest agricultural sectors in the entire world.

A place that sometimes tied summer temperatures with Death Valley. I won't mention the name of the town. It would serve no purpose. But it was and is a real town of about 5,000 souls.

A river runs through the outskirts of the town. But the town itself was semi-unremarkable except for two things: Some of the most genuine people I'd ever met and also a crop that it led the state in producing. I won't mention the crop, because a quick web search would reveal there is only one town in US that is the capital or king of this crop.

Now the crop is a good one. Not as sexy as garlic in Gilroy. But close. A nice upscale crop that most everyone uses regularly.

I ended up in this town accidentally. I accidentally landed a job as a photographer and newspaper reporter. But I also sold ads when the adman was fired. I had no idea how to sell ads or layout ads, but I figured it out until I could talk the editor/owner into hiring him back. I also ran the subscription department when someone went out on maternity leave. Same thing. Didn't know how to do it--figured it out.

But I mainly wrote news stories.

My editor, who also owned the newspaper, was a remarkable woman. She was one of the first female editor/publishers in the country when she started in the 40s or 50s. She was my boss during the end of her career in the 1980s. She was a committed alcoholic, as were most of the people who worked there. It made for interesting times.

But that alcohol problem also gave me a unique advantage. Once the townspeople realized I was not a daytime drunk (or nighttime for that matter) and did not write with a "poison pen" as they put it--I was welcomed into most every aspect of the law enforcement, city government, the chamber of commerce and the merchants' worlds.

Today my workplace would have been considered hostile and toxic. It was. But the townspeople embraced me, a blundering idiot at first. Even the town judge called me into his chambers one day and kindly told me he could tell I did not understand legal terms. So he schooled me, so I could write about legal matters semi-convincingly.

If I made an honest mistake, everyone assumed it was just that, and told me the right information--politely. I paid them back by staying up late at night many times, until I got things just right. I owed the town that much and more.

Due to the actual newspaper being a total chaotic dump with NO swamp cooler, even in 100 degree plus summers--I spent most of my time in the town, getting to know what was going on.

This town had been failing economically for years. Decades.

The editor/owner used to have temper fits. She once fired me for no reason. The adman got my job back for me after weeks of convincing her. Then during another temper fit, she fired him. And though I filled in for him--it took me months to convince her to hire him back. But I did learn a bit about publicity, ads and marketing.

This town had very little industry, except agriculture. It was on I-5 but hardly anyone ventured past the truck stops or gas stations, into the town.

I used to hang out with the chamber of commerce office manager and then was invited to all the merchants' meetings. Like many American small towns, people were trying to figure out NOT how to get their town bigger--but how to attract tourists. Growing a town is great if there is diverse industry, but with that comes more infrastructure and budget concerns.

The owner of a local feed store came up with the idea of donating ALL the supplies and flower seeds to make hanging baskets to beautify the town. Like many small towns, it has a strip of grocery stores, gas stations and other solid businesses that cater to locals and people coming off the freeway. But the historical downtown with its theater and cuter shops was only three or four blocks long. Certainly not overwhelming to beautify with some flower baskets.

Remember, this was the mid to late 1980s. This was before that was the trend. Agritourism? Farm to table? Real efforts at historical preservation in small-town America? These concepts were barely coming to most people's consciousnesses.

I was only in my 20s, but I knew a good idea when I heard it. As I always told people: I don't have that many inborn talents, but my main talent is recognizing the talents and good ideas of others and I LOVE cheering them on.

Being in small-town journalism was the perfect fit for me. A great opportunity to recognize and champion the efforts of others, without being the center of attention.

I sat in that meeting and marveled at the feed store owner (who was barely making it financially) but was willing to donate all the supplies for the good of the town. The response? Someone whined,"Who will water all those baskets?"

I felt the air leave the room. Back then I was fairly shy and wouldn't have dreamed of being part of the story and responding," Are you stark raving mad? Take turns watering the damn baskets! Even though many days I work 12 to 15 hours covering all the meetings in town--I'll help, you damn ingrates!"

Well, that project died before it got off the ground.

Remember my alcoholic boss. Even though she was temperamental, she let me have my own column where I was able to write my own opinions. I did NOT mention the flower basket fiasco, but after that I did go on a slight crusade to get SOME people in town to realize they were sitting on a treasure and hiding their lights under a proverbial basket. I did it in a nice way.

After all this town has a crop that ships all over the world. But in an industrial capacity. Even though I did NOT use words like farm to table or agritourism, because those were not in common usage at the time, I wrote about those things. I suggested the town have a festival celebrating this crop. They did do that, but it turned into a locals-only party. It was fun, but did nothing to get the rest of the county or state to realize the amazing agriculture in this tiny, almost forgotten town.

There was only one business in town that was slightly ahead of its time and marketed its products in a appealing way. And one other business that I started working with to help them develop the genius they already had in their business.

I suggested this town celebrate and develop what they already had.

I eventually moved to Colorado and went back to big-town living for several decades. Flower baskets and people celebrating away and no one whining over who was going to water the free flower baskets.

I did check up on the little town, online, years later. And I'll be darned! They finally did it. But only after more businesses became boarded up, according to a friend of mine who drove through the town and was appalled. Yes, it took the threat of derelict boarded up buildings. But they finally came to the conclusion that people want and need good old-fashioned crops and products done up with a flourish and creativity and beauty.

For years they missed one of the essential reasons people will drive for miles to a small-town. It's not only the fresh agricultural products--it's stepping back into time to a simpler time. It's strolling the streets in relative peace and safety. It's getting back to most all of our roots. It's about seeing how other people live and thrive in a rural setting.

So, I learned how NOT to promote small-town America decades ago: Don't whine about the flower baskets.

Only about 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas or small towns. It's a dying proposition at times. But wherever there is a downside, a good side can emerge.

I was actually raised in New York  the first few years of my life and even MANY decades ago my mother (a native New Yorker) used to tell me there were many children who had never really seen a lawn or many trees. I didn't believe her as a kid, because we were living on Staten Island (considered the country or rural area of New York back then) and there were plenty of trees and lawns. But she was talking about Brooklyn where some of the other relatives lived. My mother was trying to teach me to be grateful and not think that if I took something for granted that kids a few miles away were as fortunate as I was.

Yes, some of my relatives lived in those squalid areas in Italian tenements around the turn of the century and beyond not seeing much of nature. They emerged, thankfully. But I guess it's in my DNA that even people decades ago were yearning for nature and the country.

Let's not let it die. Let's preserve it.

And after years of living in the big cities I returned again to a small town in another state. I briefly told the tale of one of the cities. What about the second city? Am I going to learn more lessons how NOT to promote a small American town? You bet.