Shields: Preserving Small Towns

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(HOST) When his own small town lost its general store recently, commentator Geoff Shields found himself thinking about what service a town needs most to survive.

(SHIELDS) Over the years that I have lived in Vermont, I have resided in four different Vermont towns – Guilford, Putney, South Royalton, and Tunbridge.  I currently live in Tunbridge.  Lately, with the closing of the general store in Tunbridge, I have been thinking about what institutions are necessary to provide the glue for a well functioning small town.  It seems to me that a school, a library, a church, and a general store form the basic essentials.  
All of these institutions are under a good deal of pressure.  Overall fewer people seem to be going to church.  We are all worried about the budget pressures on public schools.  It’s very difficult for a country store to compete with the supermarket.  And the very practice of reading seems to be challenged by the turn to video games and TV.  Yet, as I look around for examples of efforts to save these institutions in the towns where I live and have lived, I’m quite encouraged.  Recently both Putney and Guilford have taken steps to create non-profit organizations to own their country stores and to oversee their management for the benefit of the community.  Tunbridge is in the process of looking at private alternatives to achieve the same end.  This year, at the overwhelming preponderance of town meetings, school budgets were approved despite the terrible economy.  To me, this is a sign that people in our small towns are willing to make very significant sacrifices to preserve their schools. 
Over the years, several churches in Tunbridge have been consolidated into one community non-denominated church and a successful transition has been made from a long time minister.
And the libraries seem to be making adjustments as well, providing wireless services, providing programming for young children, and serving as gallery space for local artists and photographers.
So, it appears that we Vermonters care deeply about our small towns and understand that if we want to preserve the terrific quality of life our towns provide, we must work together to preserve the institutions which provide the glue for our towns.

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