14. Hutchinson – 25 September 2011

Friendly crowd there in Hutchinson. Really nice morning, perfect weather and a pleasant course along the river.  I had a chat with some of my fellow runners at the start, nice folks in that small town.

I drove around the town a bit before leaving and as I was driving through the old downtown, I thought it would be a perfect place for a Walmart Neighborhood Market. Why you ask? Well, I have driven thousands of miles across all 50 states, and one thing that is common across all of the states is small towns — old downtowns mainly servicing thrift shops, nice old architecture, streets called “Main Street”, “Oak Street” and so on.

Most of these small towns usually have an old factory of some sort, sometimes open, sometimes not. There is almost always a railway line. And crappy old Dollar General or Family Dollar type places. And the thrift shops. Sometimes a coffee shop. Maybe a diner, but not as frequently as I would have liked. Oh, and normally quite a few churches.

The Neighborhood Market concept, and the smaller Walgreens-sized stores, seemed to me to have some potential to bring jobs to these downtown areas — act like an anchor that could lead to what I call “kickstarting downtown”. And of all the businesses I have encountered, Walmart is the only one with the scale and reach to be able to do this across the country.

Most of these small towns are pleasant places, normally an hour or more from a larger town. There are nice old houses, old trees, historic main streets, and what I saw — plenty of potential for a better life for folks. And in some places, community — places where people work together to bring these places back to life. and many of them looked like all they needed was a kickstart

And, in my travels, I have also seen the effect of Walmart — like them or loathe them — there is generally a visible positive effect on the local economy. All of the towns I went through that had a Walmart also had more than just Walmart. My observation.

Journey up from Arkansas was straight up the US 71 to US 160 onto Interstate 35 through Wichita and then to what some folks call “the Loneliest Road” – US Highway 50. I’ve travelled a lot on US 50 — it goes through Lake Tahoe, NV and intersects with US 89 before ending up in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Pacific Ocean. But that is for another time!