At Thursday’s townhall meeting in Washington, Mayor Gary Manier asked for a show of hands: “How many of you still live in the city?” Up went a fair number.
“How many don’t?” Up went most in the packed, standing-room-only church.
Naturally, those who have been the most consistent attendees at these informational meetings following the Nov. 17 tornado have tended to be the disproportionately affected, some of whom walked away from what remained of their homes with little but the clothes on their backs. But it was an indication of just what a punch was landed that day. As City Administrator Tim Gleason noted, “We’re the big dog in this disaster,” which was not intended as a boast.
Indeed, what Manier ultimately was trying to get at was that when any community suffers a sudden and dramatic population loss, as Washington has — with 1,000 families, give or take, uprooted and transplanted at least for a time elsewhere — it also impacts those who are left behind. And specifically in this case, it has walloped Washington’s small businesses.
In what is normally their busiest month, the local Chamber of Commerce is reporting a decline in sales of 18 to 25 percent, said Manier. The coffee shop that relies on the regulars coming in every day isn’t seeing as many of them. The bike shop that has always been something of a regional draw isn’t getting the traffic, either. Some who might otherwise have made it a Christmas shopping destination may not want to be perceived as coming to town to gawk at all the destruction. And what Washington is saying, obviously, is don’t worry about that, we don’t mind, life goes on.
To be sure, there is too much commercialism in Christmas. It is not the reason for the season. But that does not make all the other trappings surrounding the holiday unimportant, because it is just a fact that the dollars raised from local retail purchases keep the lights on at schools, the roads paved, the water running, the snow cleared not just in December but throughout the year. “We’re not going to bankrupt the community because of a tornado. We’re going to fight,” vowed Manier. “I would not want to see one business leave because of this devastation, just like I don’t want to lose one resident.”