Cynthiana, get ready. Now is the time for small towns across the country to roll out the red carpet to invite new residents. If ever there was a time for a small town to shine, it is now.
Small town America has something going for it. Residents of these little towns have known this all along, but recent events related to COVID, protests, and the general duress and feelings of insecurity in densely populated cities has us small town folks gaining a deeper sense of appreciation for the place we call home. A slower pace, less people, knowing your neighbors, a safe place, general friendliness, the ability to be involved in the community, or the ability to march to the beat of your own drum away from the spotlight. It’s all here.
Cynthiana has experienced a surge of new energy, investment, growth, and commerce in our downtown as well as an uptick in business overall. In the last five years, we have benefited from a strong national economy, new local leadership, entrepreneurs ready to take risks, and deeper pockets realizing the potential of our charming town. We have also seen more younger people return to Cynthiana to raise families, buy homes, and opt for a small town life. All of this has created an effective formula for a renaissance in our town. It has been an organic, steady change that has gained a respectable momentum and seemed as if it was going to stick. It wasn’t just a few changes and excited people that could vanish as quickly as the change came. No, this time our Maiden City’s revitalization was authentic and just on the cusp of really making a splash.
Then COVID-19 showed up.
Those first few weeks were especially frightening. The business decisions, stress, and uncertainty were overwhelming, but so far we’ve rallied with such care and compassion. Our community has been supportive of one another. I’m proud to be a part of the Cynthiana that is pressing forward, but we need to pause and make really smart decisions. Now is the time to put Cynthiana on the map to attract people to the small town life they are looking for.
Photo Credit (Left to Right): Photo 1- Mandy Gossett-Thorntoan, Photo 2 & 3- Shonda Judy
People from larger cities are already looking to relocate to places where the population is less dense. They are realizing that the pace of city life doesn’t jive with the newfound pace they discovered through quarantine. Companies are finally realizing that employees remain loyal while working remotely. Our way of conducting business is fitting around our lifestyles rather than our lifestyles fitting around our work. (This is a different blog topic entirely, but the point here is that people have been forced to live differently and these new changes aren’t going anywhere.) People are looking to live where they feel safe, where they can be connected or disconnected at will, and where a lower cost of living affords them a less hectic lifestyle.
Do you want to see old buildings and beautiful historic homes cared for or restored? It takes money. It takes time. We’ve already experienced an influx of new residents moving to Cynthiana to purchase some of our more expensive houses on the market and older houses that seem to have a daunting amount of maintenance and a hefty price tag. That price tag that seems hefty in comparison to our community’s average income is actually a steel for the person moving from a larger city. For them, moving from a place where the cost of living is astronomical, a move to a small town with a lower cost of living allows them to potentially sell their home and buy a really nice one here, free and clear. With more and more people working remotely, us smaller towns don’t have to be so desperate to build costly business parks and think that industry is the only way to growth. We need professionals with good wages living here to invest in homes, spending at local businesses, and being a part of this beautiful thing called commerce. The more properties occupied by owners than renters, the better our older homes will be for it.
What should we be doing now to prepare for an America that values its small towns again? First, spend your dollars at the places that are already here. Visit your local hardware stores, restaurants, shops, and even those big stores. They need you, too. Your downtown is not a decoration. Yes, it is lovely to drive by and see boutiques, offices, cafes, bars and our lovely theater- all occupying spaces that were once empty. But they are there to be an active part of our economy, providing services, entertainment, and goods. And while I am immensely proud of our beautifully restored little corner of Pike and Walnut Street, I didn’t join in with other risk takers and entrepreneurs to decorate the town and make a space that makes you happy when you drive by. I created a space for you to live and so have all of the other business owners around us.
Photo Credit (Left to Right): Photo 1-Shonda Judy , Photo 2- Karen Bear, Photo 3- Shonda Judy
Secondly, decide to be an active part of positive conversations. I’ve found that the people who have the most negative things to say about a small town are the people living there with blinders on. I have had countless conversations with visitors this past year at The Burley Market who go on and on about the charm of our downtown, the friendliness of the people here, and the gorgeous older homes, architecture, and access to bigger cities within an hour or so drive. They love that there is little to do and they admire the slower pace because if you want to jump in the car and do something in the city you are only an hour or a smidge more from three major cities. Geography is actually in our favor, not the other way around.
Thirdly, put the pressure on your local leaders or BE a local leader to fund projects that grow our town. A fully funded tourism commission isn’t about producing brochures and making signs. A tourism commission CREATES opportunities to attract visitors to our town who spend money here and may ultimately live here. This is where riverfront development, walking and bike trail development, placemaking, festivals, advocacy for a clean community and façade improvements can come from. I fear our little town has been confused about the roles of organizations who ignite these changes or drive them. Someone must own this and specialize in this. Currently, we do not have a fully supported or funded tourism commission, which in my opinion needs to be a top priority to develop and attract those to the town we love.
A chamber of commerce supports business networks and fosters a connected business community. A Main Street program focuses on downtown economic development, beautification, promotion, and funding for downtown improvements that result in strong business community and richer downtown experience for residents and tourists alike. Together, these entities work together simultaneously to reach the common goal along with local government, whose job is to see that budgets, projects, and leadership carryout the tasks to reach collective goals that achieve a safe community where we can live, conduct business, have access to high-speed internet, education, work, and housing, keeping our streets paved, our plumbing functional, our laws current and enforced, and holding everyone accountable for the work that makes Cynthiana continue beyond its current 225 years.
Business is not back to normal. Life is not back to normal; it won’t be and shouldn’t be for quite some time. And honestly, as much as I prefer predictable and ‘normalcy’ in some capacity, I don’t want to go back. The divide and current climate is scary but I am choosing to focus on what I can do to make a positive impact on my community and for my family. I am excited about moving forward into this new territory. That’s where the true creativity, innovation, work, and grit is going to shine through. I like the idea that stores close early and, heaven forbid, that they don’t open at all on holidays. I love seeing Facebook posts where families are spending time together, that parents are doing schoolwork with their kids, and moms are baking bread! Maybe, just maybe, families will be closer, communities will be tighter, and our sense of appreciation for life’s simple joys will be greater. I plan on doing all of this right here in my little town of Cynthiana and I predict many others will be joining.
Small town living is about to be the cool kid and I hope my fellow Cynthiana friends are ready. Company is coming.
Photo Credits: Shonda Judy, Karen Bear, Mandy Gossett-Thornton, Nell Anne Gossett, Jeff Fryman, Miriah Fuller Eden, Karey Riddell, Larah Kate Kendall, DB Shoots Photography
Author: Karey Riddell, owner of The Burley Market & Cafe
The Burley Market & Cafe is located in a beautifully restored building on the corner of Pike and Walnut Street in downtown Cynthiana, Kentucky. The café menu offers a selection of gourmet espresso and coffee drinks from locally roasted beans, fresh breakfast and lunch entrees utilizing many locally-sourced ingredients, and a small market shop featuring Kentucky gifts, foods, and goods.
201 East Pike Street
Cynthiana, KY 41031