Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Yellow Brick Road to Success

I toured Sedan, KS with Jeannie Walker, the Tin Man and Nita Jones, Dorothy, both from the Wizard of Oz. They were part of a group that called itself SOS, which stood for Save Our Sedan. And they saved their hometown first on the back of the Yellow Brick Road and later on other attractions. Theirs is a great story.

Sedan, KS (population 1,386) is the county seat for Chautauqua County, which only has a population of 4270. The county is roughly 30 x 40 miles so there are less than 4 people/square mile. It is 40 miles to a town of even 10,000 people. Chautauqua is a very rural county!

Its economy was built upon ranching and later oil. In the mid 1980s both collapsed. The year 1988 was probably the low point, when the Sedan State Bank, a 75 year old institution in the region, collapsed and 13 businesses on the downtown block closed their doors. Numerous ranches were foreclosed upon. It was a bleak period for the tiny town.

In many towns going thru these type of problems, people would have thrown up their hands, expressed frustration and then sat back to slowly watch their town die a slow, painful death. I’ve seen too many in my travels that have taken that approach. But, Sedan wasn’t like other towns, or at least it wasn’t because of a dozen local people. Jeannie, Nita, the local doctor and nine other locals started SOS—Save Our Sedan. They didn’t know what they were going to do, but they just knew that they had to do something. Jeane McCann, one of the dozen, watched the Wizard of Oz with her grandchildren and west to the SOS meeting with an idea of doing a Yellow Brick Road. The dozen talked with the city council and other people. Most thought it was a bad idea. There were after all similar roads in Liberal, KS and in Judy Garland’s hometown in NJ. But the SOS group persisted and got the city council to agree to let them try it at their November, 1988 meeting. What did they have to lose?

The city council still wasn’t too sure about this idea of a Yellow Brick Road in Sedan, so they made the group start their road in the middle of the block, not on one of the 2 ends of Main Street. Jeannie told me, “We thought that if we sold 100 to 200 bricks, it would be fantastic. In the first week we sold 400 at $10/brick. Now we sell them for $25/brick.” And from that start, they’ve now “sold 11,148 bricks (to people from every state in the USA and 28 foreign countries), growing the yellow brick road to 8 blocks in length, the world’s longest,” said Nita as she took my $25 so that I could be number 11,149.

And, from that start Sedan has slowly rebuilt itself and its economy. More on that tomorrow.

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