If you live in a city, a town say 10,000+, or something in between, you probably drive, walk or bike past dozens of “convenience stores” every day. Other than the one or two you may frequent for gas, or a coffee, you probably don’t give them much notice. That’s not to say they aren’t important. On the contrary. According to a January 2015 story at FierceRetail.com , convenience stores make up 34% of all retail locations in the US. Other than the two stores where I stop regularly for gas (one if I’m headed south, the other if I’m headed west), about the only attention I give most convenience stores is a quick comparison of gas prices (I am my father’s son). What you and I likely DON’T think about when passing one is Community.
I was born to a farm a couple miles east of Forestburg, a small, unincorporated village in east central South Dakota where State Highway 34 and the James River intersect. I am at least 4th generation on each side. All of my grandparents went to school together, with three graduating high school together in a class of nine (1928). If you’ve heard of Forestburg at all, you probably know it as the Melon Capitol of South Dakota, which in fact it IS (sorry Woonsocket). The musk melons, pumpkins and cavalcade of squash varieties are wonderful, but it’s the watermelons that are king. Kelly Larson of Larson’s Melons on the Curve, my go-to guy for all things melons, says what makes it all work is a very small band of three feet of sand on the west side of the Jim River dumped on a clay base by the last glacier.““` Both sides of my family farmed on the east side of the river where the glacier dumped billions of tons of granite boulders. Picking melons and picking rocks are both hard work, but both pickers would agree enjoying a cold melon after picking rocks beats the visa-versa.
Like many small South Dakota villages, Forestburg was never the same after the Stock Market crash of 1929. The bank failed, which started a multi-decade retail decline, closing hardware stores, lumber yards, a grocery and many others. The population of Sanborn County peaked around 4500 in the mid-late 40’s, about the time my parents started dating, and today is half that number.
I didn’t grow up in Forestburg. My Dad was a school superintendent and teacher, and with a wife and three boys to support had to move to Minnesota in 1963 to make a living wage…proving there is little new under the sun. However, with all of the extended family back in Sanborn County, we went back all the time. My memories of Forestburg businesses are limited to Ike’s Pool Hall on Main Street, and Nelson’s Service and Cafe up on the highway. Together they were important community centers where you could get a meal, burger, coffee or cocktail; milk and bread to take home, a haircut (Ike’s had a chair, the barber came one day a week), a Euchre game (likely with one or both of my grandfathers participating) and most importantly, community news. Who was born/sick/married/arrested/deceased/visiting, etc? Ike’s and Nelson’s are both long gone, with no physical remains to show they ever existed.
I live in Sioux Falls, and I need two hands to count all the places I could go for coffee or lunch in less than five minutes. I’m meeting friends, business associates…and now potential employers…at any of dozens of establishments. If you’re under 45 and have lived around Forestburg, you’ve probably never driven less than 7-10 miles to another townto have lunch, 20-30 minute to have some choice for a place to eat, or sit down and have coffee with friends, assuming your friends want to make the same trip at the same time as you. Other than a bar, or church (if you’re Lutheran-Presbyterians have to drive 15 miles to Fedora to get together), your chances of running into a friend or neighbor at lunch are very slim unless you can pass as a sophomore at Sanborn Central School. Communities DIE when you cannot commune with your friends and neighbors. I am proud to say the people of my little home town are doing something about it.
Louise and Richard Alt live on the farm where my Mom grew up, about three miles east and a mile and half north of Forestburg. They’ve expanded the place considerably, and have business concerns there ranging from Richard’s accounting business to custom trucking and combining. Early in 2015 Louise purchased the Country Pumper, a serviceable convenience and gas place where you could buy a paper, milk, a soft drink, etc. However, unless you had nowhere to go and it was 20 below zero, or were casing the joint for a stick-up, there were few if any reasons to stick around The Pumper and… commune. That all changed in March. The place was spiffed up considerably. The bathrooms were fixed up. There’s a little Forestburg memorabilia up on the wall (which, I hope, is just a start). And, most importantly, there are tables and booths and…a hot lunch five days a week. In the history of mankind there is nothing more simple or effective in bringing people together than breaking bread. You KNOW that from 11am-2pm you can just show up and odds are you’ll run into a neighbor, friend or relative. And they’ll have some kind of news for you, like what did your rain gauge read after yesterday’s storm, or did you hear Dorothy was under the weather, or that FIVE, count ’em, FIVE different people hit deer last week, and all were driving Chevy’s! If you want, you have a place now where you can meet for coffee, cards and one of those home-made mammoth carmel rolls that are just like the ones your grandma made back when you were a kid. I was in there Saturday, and although there’s no lunch special on weekends (hint: maybe next fall just during hunting season: cheese burgers. Just sayin’…), but there’s enough hot pizza to feed three adults and two growing boys and a comfortable place to sit down and lots of people you know making a purchase and…sticking around for a little chat, and maybe a hot coffee.
All this happens because someone in the community made the effort and commitment to take the common gas/convenient store and with a few homey touches and home cooking made it a community. And, I hear, it maybe rubbing off. Rumor has it the Forestburg Lutherans, while short a pastor, are taking turns running church services on their own, keeping the service to 20 minutes, and leaving the extra 40 minutes for…a hot lunch and some chatter. I smell a trend…
In the city, convenience stores pride themselves for their ability to get you in, get you what you want, and get you back on the road FAST. However, if you find yourself traveling across South Dakota on Hwy 34, look for the Country Pumper east of Forestburg. Time your trip so you’re there at lunchtime, because I hear the Beef Stroganoff on Friday is to die for. If Louise is there, ask her to share a little area history. If they aren’t sold out, grab two Carmel rolls. One for lunch, and one for the road, as it’s a long drive to Pierre. Ask ’em how the Blackhawks basketball team is playing. How’s the pheasant hunting this fall? And do you know where a fella could get in on a little Euchre game?
If you’d like to automatically receive my p0sts the minute they are posted, look afor the button below that will let you do just that. Also, if you think it fittin’, please share this blog with friends, family and anyone else you think might enjoy it.
i an also searching for my next employement adventure. If you know someone in the Sioux Sioux Falls area who could use a guy like me to do stuff like this, or use any of my considerable skills and experience in all forms of content creation and helping creative people and business people communicate with each other, PLEASE FORWARD this blog to them. Your sharing of stuff like this is how to get the word out fast. Mhy fami you!