Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, April 21, 2006

Grow or Die

My friend Jeff Harkins at the U of I likes to say that towns either "grow or die."

A story in Monday's Lewiston Tribune illustrated that principle in action. Pullman cannot afford to look towards an obsolete economic model, as Don Pelton so eloquently put it in the Daily News last Friday. And as Don pointed out, the demise of Garfield has had nothing to do with Wal-Mart, but the decline of agriculture.

Nap time is over for town of Garfield

Like all small towns dotting the Palouse farm country, Garfield was founded more than a century ago around agriculture, commerce and the day-to-day wants and needs of rural people.

Two major railroad lines crossed here. Farm equipment dealers thrived. Schools flourished. Banks made loans with few questions asked. Local businesses feasted on an agrarian horn of plenty. Life, say old-timers, was as good here as anywhere in small town America.

But most of the farms, which used to be family oriented, got bought up and evolved into corporate entities. Asphalt turned muddy roads into thoroughfares for ever-improving transportation modes. People began to travel greater distances to work, shop and play. The day's bustle gave way to a yawn. And another bedroom community eventually took root.

"You know how the demise of these old towns goes," says Archie Neal, who worked for 35 years for the local J.E. Love farm equipment fabricator company. "When you had a farmstead on every quarter-section back then, it's a little different than one on every three sections today."

"The bulk of the people living here now, who aren't retired, work in Pullman or Moscow," says Forrest Miller, a longtime resident.

And like so many bedroom communities left amid a struggling agriculture economy, Garfield napped into the new millennium until suddenly an alarm went off.

"It was kind of a wake-up call," Neal says of the day the only cafe in town closed its doors. "A restaurant is the central part of a community. Without it, a town doesn't have the soul it needs."

And that's what Garfield was about to become -- a town of 600 people with nowhere to gather, no place to nourish its collective psyche.

1 comment:

April E. Coggins said...

What a great article. It sums up my sadness in saying goodbye to an era. I wish we could stay as we were, but we can't. We must move forward.

I remember a few years back, when Fonk's Five and Dime in Colfax closed it's doors. For those who didn't grow up here, Fonk's was like a small Wal-Mart. They were a chain of discount stores that were staples in our little area. Every store was the same. Heck, they even smelled the same. Fonk's operated much the same as Wal-Mart. Fonk's could have easily become Wal-Mart. The Fonk's family sold the chain and then everything went downhill. The new owners were happy to rest on the laurels of the name and they continued to stock the same out of date items, year after year. They ignored new electronic innovations, they refused to expand, they expected their customers to stop in time with them.

Anyway, when Fonk's in Colfax went out of business, they had a model sized Wal-Mart truck with a purposeful dent on the side placed with prominence for display. Apparently, the new(est) Fonk's owner blamed the Moscow Wal-Mart for their demise. Wal-Mart was not to blame for that store going out of business. The reason they stopped having the support of their shoppers was because the Fonk's store owners refused to accept that customers don't want to buy 30 year old technology, no matter how much it is discounted.