Thursday, October 12, 2006

Step into the Arena or Sit on the Fence?

One of my favorite talks and tours was in Wimbledon, ND (population 237) where over half of the town turned out to hear me speak. Wimbledon is 30 miles north of Jamestown, ND, (population 15,527), its closest city. It is like a lot of small, rural towns, well past its prime and slowly aging in place. Wimbledon’s median population age is 42.5 years compared to the national average of 35.3. Most communities are content to let that aging process continue, slowly watching small businesses close their doors as the population continues to dwindle. Wimbledon is not such a town.

When their local café announced that it was closing its doors, a local group of citizens set up a local corporation to buy and run it. An area resident heard of their efforts and stepped in to buy and run the Wimbledon Café which is open for Sunday dinners, and Monday through Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Recently their grocery story, which had been owned by the same couple for 51 years, announced that it was closing after they couldn’t find a buyer. The same group stepped up, raised $100,000 in an equity drive and re-opened the grocery last week.

Now the local leaders are wrestling with a school consolidation and additional housing for the tiny town. Armed with their recent successes they are exploring Renaissance Zones, assisted living for seniors, child care and recreational options.

Mike & Judy Schlecht said it best in their thank you to the community after 51 years in the grocery business. Here is what they had to say about the ad hoc committee that saved the local grocery, “We need more people like them to ‘step into the arena’ rather than ‘sit on the fence’.”
Wimbledon doesn’t have many fence sitters. I’m glad that I was there and hope to return soon.

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