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The Battle of Business in the Appalachian Plateau
By Sidney Shuman
I was born and raised in a small town of 8,000 by the name of Abingdon in Southwest Virginia. Abingdon is the seat of Washington County and was my home for my entire childhood until my departure for college. It was all I ever knew as home. Originally named Wolf Hills by Daniel Boone, Abingdon holds a unique charm because of its vast history and ability to keep its historic spirit alive, even though it's feeling the effects of globalization like any other place.
Abingdon offers activities such as horse and carriage rides, war reenactments, and ghost tours. It is home to many landmarks, including the Barter Theatre, the state theatre of Virginia; the Martha Washington Inn, a former college that is now one of the finest hotels in the area; and the Virginia Creeper Trail, a hiking trail made from a former railroad route that links to the Appalachian Trail. Abingdon hosts the Virginia Highlands Festival, an arts and crafts festival that lasts two weeks at the end of July/beginning of August, and has been an annual event for 65 years now. These main attractions mixed with the nostalgia I have for spending my childhood in Abingdon make me proud to call it home.
Abingdon has followed many food and entertainment trends as I have grown up. First, there was the free WiFi coffee house, Zazzy’z, which is still thriving today. When cupcakeries became trendy, next thing Abingdon knew, Babycakes Eatery was in the middle of town. Now, the craze of microbreweries everywhere brought has brought about a new hotspot: Wolf Hills Brewing Company. Wolf Hills features many locally brewed beers, as well as live entertainment most evenings.
Because Abingdon is such a small town, it's a great place for business owners to test out mega trends, as long as they're the first to do so in the area, have the proper strategy, and market themselves efficiently. Abingdon's size also lets business people network easily just about anywhere there's a group of people.
Economic trends have shifted in a contradictory way since the days when I was growing up in Abingdon. The national embrace of the "local" movement became popular in Abingdon, too, with farmer’s markets and small businesses promoting Abingdon’s storybook image. This image, however, is being tarnished by the overwhelming sprawl of corporations and major businesses. Abingdon has multiple McDonald’s, Subways, and Dairy Queens throughout a town that only has three Interstate exits. I see this not only in my small hometown, but in many areas in the United States.
Cities and towns are becoming less personal and travel is less important to some because many places have similar appearances and therefore hold less novelty. There is a constant battle between these two movements—the local one and the corporate one—and the battle has finally reached the small town level. Abingdon has kept up with localizing megatrends, but still struggles to lure in tourists. The town shortened the Highlands Festival from two weeks to one week for the first time this year due to lack of interest in artisans and the area overall. This is one of the events for which my town is best known and the fact that interest in such a unique local movement is unsettling to say the least.
Although the return to local movements is an important economic trend to consider, it is impossible for a small town like Abingdon to battle a driving force such as (sub)urban sprawl. As for Abingdon and other small towns like it—following megatrends mixed with what makes the place unique and proper promotion will keep both locals and tourists mutually interested.