After being away for a few weeks, caring for her mother, Allison found herself shocked as she walked down Pine Street to the coffee shop.
She was sure that there was at least one more empty storefront than when she left. Or maybe two more?
All around her town, city economies boomed. They struggled to hold all the people who streamed to their centers for the decent jobs flourishing there. Then those same people realized they could not afford to live close to those decent jobs. Some found roommates and tiny spaces to share with them; others pushed their lives to the periphery of the city, creating the need for cars or buses or trains to ferry them back and forth to work. The bustle of commuting became a kind of second job for these people, adding hours to their time away from the homes they worked so hard to be able to afford.
Some of those people found their way to Allison’s town, perched on the edge of a barely feasible commuting distance, especially if they could telecommute during the worst of the winters.
And yet. Despite this growth, despite these additional people, the core of the town seemed to be stripping itself bare. Three or four shops had closed just on this single street. People retired, or relocated, according to the brief notices in the local paper, and no one stepped in to buy the business or replace it with something else. Or, a business simply failed. A good idea, but no lightning in a bottle to keep it alive.
Allison worried. She slowed her pace, reading the For Lease notices, scanning the interiors visible through paper taped to the windows for a glimpse of the life that had been so present in the space just a heartbeat ago. Was this just an ebb in the flow of commerce, a coincidental episode, and the street would thrive again in another year or two?
Or was Pine Street dying?
The bell over the door of the coffee shop offered its reassuring jingle, and she entered an arena of noisy community: young moms chatting with one another, hair pulled back in practical ponytails; older women planning book club meetings; students settling in for hours of homework, using the wireless for the price of a single drip coffee; and over there, in her usual spot, Franny with her laptop, writing feverishly.
This corner of Pine Street, was thoroughly alive, at least for now.