Yesterday, I drove the 20 minutes north to Chester to a friend's shop. The friend was one of the first people I met in Petersburg and helped me immensely in establishing a foothold on the slippery slope of small business ownership and in setting up my shop in Petersburg. Little did I know that, three months after my grand opening, she'd move on to the greener pastures of suburbia. I felt betrayed. WHAT?!? You're leaving? But you just opened (in the space I pined away over for my store, no less)! And the arrival of an independent bookstore surely signals the beginning of a major renaissance. Here I come to save the day!
But as I drove on non-potholed streets past eclectic shopping centers and newish, fully accredited schools, I started to understand why she moved away from a downtown that is surely, this time, like so many times before, on the verge of being something special. In fact, I may have developed the slightest case of Chester Envy. Restaurants, shops, schools, houses neatly arranged with, get this, ample parking designated for them! No psychiatric deficients manning the front doors like it's their job. I was not approached for a cigarette or bus money, I was not asked for an odd job, nor was I verbally assaulted for being married to The Doc (all regular occurrences on any given day in the 'Burg). Although I didn't know exactly where I was going, I felt safe. The growing sense of envy was not helped in the slightest when I pulled into her parking lot. Pristeen black asphalt, new building, fresh paint, workable public infrastructure and, best of all, a community dedicated to sensible development. In short, all the things Petersburg does not have.
That set me wondering why people like me make Petersburg our home. Why do we keep believing and pouring our blood, sweat and tears toward what we hope will be the town's eventual triumph? Are we hard-luck cases ourselves? Do we want to be the proverbial big fish in the small pond? Do we want to be the only game in town? Is it easier to have the safety net of being able to blame our personal failures on a city that's failing? Maybe, maybe not. It's hard not to hope for good things for this city. We see so much potential for a phoenix rising from the ashes of the past. It's hard not to root for the underdog. This city has certainly had its share of adversity. It's hard not to get caught up in a sense of the excitement of possibility, especially given our country's recent path. So we choose to live and work here and, on some level, to cast our fortunes in with those of the city. But it's also really hard to keep being positive when there seems to be no comprehensive plan to "get there from here," and seemingly no sense of urgency about developing one. Seeing a town that's already there makes it that much more obvious.