Remembering the ‘mom and pop’ shops that once lined Main Street

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

I feel it necessary to comment on all the talk about what is "wrong" with Mountain Home, and address the elephant in the room regarding downtown. For a little background on myself, my parents were transferred here with their young family (my sister and my two brothers) by the USAF in 1954. At that time there were only a few paved roads in Mountain Home. My Dad commuted from Boise for a year until housing on base became available. There was no interstate and the drive took about 1 1/2 hours each way. I was born on the Airbase and joined the family in 1959 and we moved to town in 1963 into a brand new house on Alturas Drive. I don’t ever remember not living in town. My childhood and adolescent years here were, well, perfect. The community and business environment I remember was perfect as well. It was small town America. The schools were well run, the downtown area had everything the community needed. Stores that ranged from sporting goods to women’s and men’s clothing, a music store, dime store, hardware store, movie theaters (yes, 2 of them and a drive-in), along with restaurants, furniture stores, dozens of gas stations…I could go on forever. But the main thing these merchants had in common was that they were ALL locally owned and operated. You could walk into Watson’s Men’s Store and meet Roy Watson. Or go into Western Auto and meet Art Isaac. You’d go into the Hub Clothiers and meet someone from the Sheer family. Tindall's Home Furnishings..same thing. However, things were much different in Mountain Home back then. The freeway was yet to be built, so all traffic passed directly through Mountain Home. A Boise trip was an all day ordeal, as I remember, on a 2 lane road in cars without air conditioning with even more NOTHING between here and there. My parents rarely needed or even wanted to go to Boise because EVERYTHING was available here. I guess my point is this. America has changed and Mountain Home got changed too. When the freeway was built in the early 70s, traffic decreased through town, but you know what? It didn’t affect the downtown community that much because people who lived in Mountain Home or on the Airbase supported these businesses, TOTALLY! There was no running to Boise to save $5 on this or that, or to look for this or that. It was already here and everybody knew it. Over the next couple of decades, as traveling became easier, with higher speed limits, Boise became a comfortable 35 minute trip. And with the arrival of K-Mart and later Wal-Mart, things really deteriorated (be careful what you wish for.) The "Mom and Pop" stores faced a stark reality. These wonderful, local merchants, who'd put their entire lives into their businesses and provided a wide selection of goods and services (I’m talking about hard to find things as well as the more popular, high turnover items), came face to face with the Wal-Marts of the world, that have an entirely different business model. They choose to stock the high turnover, heavily discounted items and NONE of the slower moving items that provide the product selection that makes a great store. This puts extreme pressure on the small, local merchant because now their high turnover sales get gutted, and the small merchant can’t survive on slow moving items alone. Pretty soon it’s no longer viable to keep investing in their businesses. No longer viable to pay a decent wage and have employees work their entire lives at one of these stores. And, ultimately, no longer viable to stay in business. Then, with the competition gone....Wal-Mart raises their prices. So, why would anybody today, save for a lifetime, or borrow a pile of money…. sometimes mortgaging their home to go into business were the buying public is so fickle and our city government isn’t as supportive as it needs to be of small, local businesses? That’s an easy question to answer, they wouldn’t! Would you? Today's business and political climate is not inviting...(Impact Fee, what's that?)... unlike when my parents started an auto parts business here in 1973 or my wife’s parents started and operated several businesses over the years as well. But, in today’s business and political environment, our parents’ dreams, as well as the dream I’m currently living operating the store my parents started, could not have taken root. I made a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35YvAPMDqnU&t a few years back illustrating everything I’ve talked about. It’s had almost 100,000 views on facebook, WOW! If you haven't seen it, I encourage you to watch it. There are a lot of people out there with fond ties to Mountain Home. But, people new to town, by and large, dislike it at first. Then they leave and find “home” isn’t as “home” as they remember and end up back here with a totally different outlook, while many others wish they could come back. I love Mountain Home. It’s a very special and unique place.

But what makes Mountain Home unique also hurts it. With so many new faces constantly arriving, most not particularly liking it at first, it’s difficult for these new arrivals to take “ownership” in their new community, and the town suffers because most know they'll be gone soon. This is unlike almost all other communities in the state that have a more stable population movement. So, sure, we can want for this or that, but, I ask you to stop for a moment, realize that this is a small town, but more importantly, if we are to take "ownership" in Mountain Home, we need to ask ourselves this simple question; “Is it worth it to save $5 by driving to Boise or going to Wal-Mart, while having empty buildings downtown to complain about...vs walking into a locally owned downtown store and shaking the hand of the owner, whose livelihood depends on us?” Downtown can return again if we're part of the solution and take "ownership." Remember, it’s the local people we share our town and dollars with that matter, not a new, shiny “Big Box” store or some overhyped fast-food joint that runs ads on TV every 15 minutes. They could really care less about Mountain Home. Their only objective is to extract as much $$$ as possible and make us feel good about it. Until we and the people we elect realize this, it's all the future we’ll ever have.…and IMO, no amount of asphalt and concrete promises is ever going to change that.