By Jack Gurner
They say confession is good for the soul. And, I have a couple of things to get off my chest.
One – I don’t like beer, and two – I don’t like traffic.
When it comes to beer, I hate to admit I can’t tell the difference between Yalobusha Brewery’s finest and Papst Blue Ribbon. It’s not their fault, it’s mine. It all tastes the same to me.
I briefly had a fling with beer when I could buy a watered-down version for a dime a can 45 years ago while serving with the Air Force in Southeast Asia. Two cans and I’d have to take a nap.
I hoped that after the lopsided vote in 2007 that the issue would be settled and I wouldn’t have to write about it again. But, here we are, eight years later and it’s back in the news.
There always seems to be a small group of people in every city and town who feel a moral imperative to oppose beer. Why they pick beer over other issues that are more dangerous to health and safety is beyond me. But, they become so focused on beer that they are willing to do whatever it takes to get their way. At first they tried to keep the issue from coming to a vote. Then, after it passed, they created overly restrictive laws aimed at doing what they couldn’t do the American way at the polls.
But, that’s enough about beer. Let’s talk about traffic. When I moved back home from Memphis in 1986, I could drive through town without having to slow down. There were hardly any cars on the streets. I knew that I was taking a chance coming home, but I opened my photo studio anyway knowing that I was going to have to seek business in other areas. It ended up being about 20 to 25 percent local and 75 to 80 percent out of town.
But, Water Valley is home and family. I love the place. I wasn’t even bothered by the city’s slow decline. It had been going on for years and I figured that it would still be going on long after I was gone. Half the store buildings downtown were empty and even on Saturday, once the busiest day of the week, there were very few vehicles parked on Main Street.
I could travel elsewhere, shoot photos and then come home to the peace and quiet of the Valley. That worked for me for 20 years.
Around 2007 some of the younger people decided that if the city was to survive, some changes were going to have to be made. They started talking economic development. State officials were making it clear that in modern times if an area wasn’t moving forward, it was going to go backwards…fast.
The economic development movement brought together local folks and some of the new young transplants. Many of them had picked Water Valley as where they wanted to live because of the same things we natives find appealing.
From their efforts evolved the Water Valley Main Street Association and the beginning of a new era of growth. Over the past seven years most every retail space downtown has been filled. Businesses have opened – and some have closed – but still others have taken their place.
Even the Chamber of Commerce, long a lumbering dinosaur of an organization, has come to life with new young leadership and a goal to improve business in Water Valley. Last Christmas season saw a very impressive joint retail promotion between the two groups.
Water Valley has become an example for other cities and towns to follow; growth without losing what makes the city so livable. And, that’s where all the gosh darn traffic comes from. I still don’t like it. But, at least I understand why it is important to the survival of Water Valley.
Changes are going to have to continue being made. Decisions that are detrimental to business must be questioned and those who are too set in their ways are going to have to move aside.
Nobody wants Water Valley to become another Oxford. That bit of propaganda is being put out by the naysayers who see themselves losing control.
Change is a matter of survival for our school system, our infrastructure and our way of life. We really have no choice. So, please, either join in or get out of the way.