We received a nice email last week from a reader who recently arrived in town from a larger South Florida city. She raised a familiar concern I have sometimes heard since I arrived in Crestview in 2005.
I quite understand where she’s coming from. When I blew over here from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I knew I’d have to adjust to small town life. Before the storm, I could walk from my house to bunches of stores and restaurants.
But I quickly learned I could get along just fine. I can shop for basic groceries and household needs here in town. When I need clothes, small-regiment size food packages, or gadgets, it’s fun to take an occasional Saturday run down to the south county or over to Pensacola.
But quite honestly, I love the quiet of small town life, and gladly gave up the conveniences of urban dwelling for the lower blood pressure and chirp of evening crickets rather than cacophony of trucks and buses running past my front door.
Something I really learned to love about Crestview is its small town-big town feel. I wonder, do we really need to be like a bigger city?
For the convenience of having a wider choice of shopping options, we’d by necessity sacrifice the quiet, simpler life of a smaller country community. A Target, after all, doesn’t pop up in a small town.
Malls are passé. In fact, urban designers tell us more malls are closing in the United States than are opening. The current shopping trend, developers have found, is a “village” experience in which busy customers can park closer to the store they want to visit.
We’re ahead of that trend with our friendly, classic downtown Main Street lined with cool shops and restaurants.
I was delighted to discover when I moved here from New Orleans that I didn’t have to give up having a wide variety of places to choose from when I eat out. Who needs the cookie cutter ho-hum of chain restaurants when we have such an incredible diversity of homegrown eateries?
In fact, my biggest problem with local food is deciding where to eat, as the choices are so many. From higher end places like the Wild Olive or Christopher’s Uncorked Bistro, to just plain home cookin’ at Uncle Bill’s, Desi’s and the Tropical Palm, to everything in between, including a surprisingly large selection of Asian food, including Philippine, Thai, Korean, Japanese and Chinese.
And there’s no frozen sauce shipped in from an out-of-state company headquarters at our local seafood restaurants.
Our city council is very “business-friendly,” to quote the county Economic Development Council’s president. In fact, just last year the city eliminated two impact fees that some critics said discouraged economic growth.
Actually, they don’t discourage it as much as some claim. Businesses routinely plan their budgets to include local fees. Every municipality has them. Somebody has to pay for increased traffic and demand on infrastructure. It’s unfair to expect citizens to shoulder that burden.
However, contrary to popular belief, it is not government’s responsibility to phone Olive Garden or Target and ask them to pop into town and open a store. What local government does is foster a climate that is conducive to opening a business, and our city and county governments do that rather well, and are working hard to do it better.
As the city grows and as the county — hopefully — addresses traffic woes, and as residents contact favorite establishments and ask them to take a look at Crestview — I’ve been pestering Whole Foods to come to town since I got here — businesses take notice, start counting rooftops and traffic, and contact local officials about bringing their shops and eateries to town.
Remember: No out-of-state corporate menu planner will make battered fish as good as the guys at Country Chicken and Fish, and they sure won’t have those comforting “Jesus Loves You” T-shirts!
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.