Let’s breathe some life into our small town

With the closure of many small businesses and local hangouts in recent years, how can we keep our small-town feel alive?



Kids need a place like the Main Street of old to fill the void of a central locale where teens can hangout. Image from Wikipedia.

Bradenton, Florida: population 56,000… What a place to live! 

There’s nothing like reading the extraordinary amount of obituaries in the Herald-Tribune (we have a very aging population), or sitting in walls of tourist traffic coming home from school, or cruising down state roads full of soul-less strip malls, or of course the glory of playing the smuggler’s Cove Mini-Golf Course for the seventieth time. 

It’s safe to say, Bradenton is a small town. And there’s nothing wrong with small towns. They’re what make America great with their “everyone-knows-everyone” nature and small family-owned businesses and central hangouts like ice cream shops and coffee joints.   

But in Bradenton, the small-town feel is going away.  We may be going through something that’s happening across America: the death of the small town.

Due to modernization, increasing rent prices for businesses, the rise of chain restaurants and stores, the closing of mom-and-pop businesses, and changes in consumer demands (lots of online shopping, people), in recent years our home has become a small town without any of the good things about being a small town. 

As a teenager, we can confirm: there’s really nothing to do here. And even the things one normally has to “do” in a small town, well they’re disappearing, too.

Our beaches are overrun with traffic and tourists, our local restaurants are giving way to the Carraba’s of the world, the DeSoto mall hardly exists anymore, and you can’t even fish outside your house without a nosy neighbor yelling at you.

Each and every time I make plans with friends, we start with the same question: “Whose house are we gonna go to?” or the alternative: “Well… What are we gonna do?”

And most often, the answer is— “I don’t know.”  Or go to the beach.  But you can sit in the sun so many days in a row.  

That’s just the problem: there are hardly any stores or attractions or alternative hangout locations in Bradenton that are meant for teens.

If you take a stroll down Manatee Avenue or Cortez Road, you’ll find quite the variety of businesses, but most are chain restaurants, banks, or establishments that just aren’t that interesting to young kids.

So… What’s missing from our town? What do young people need to make the short span of youth more enjoyable??

We need some common spaces.  Some hangout zones.  Some old-fashioned locales where we’re welcome, we can hang out, and we can do it cheaply.  

Older generations, like our parents or grandparents’ eras flocked to some place like “Main Street,” lined with shops like diners, ice cream parlors, or arcades. A place that would’ve been suited for groups of friends to gather and exist as teenagers. 

But those places, in our area, are quickly departing. Two notable losses in the past few years are the beloved Boiler Room Bar & Grille and Latte Luna Cafe.

Also, our generation is much different than those who came before. With their phones, teens can communicate almost instantaneously without having to meet face-to-face. This has certainly made us more passive or less inclined to actual social situations, and therefore less motivated to hang out with each other. It’s sad to say, but when most kids get together with friends, more often than not they end up just sitting their phones as a group. Not a single one of my peers reading this can deny it.

As a generation, we need to move away from this kind of behavior and find some common, physical grounds to interact. 

Maybe, as an alternative to diners and ice cream shops, we begin to reintegrate ourselves into natural spaces, such as Robinson’s Preserve, Desoto Preserve, the riverwalk, or even just neighborhood public parks. 

If we all go out to these places to ride bikes, walk, play sports, or just hang out, maybe there’d be a shift. Plus meetups like that would get documented on social media, sending a message of influence to do the same.

Especially with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and concerns for the future health of Americans, we could all effectively continue social distancing by hanging out with friends in nature once the pandemic begins to slow. 

After all, who couldn’t use a bit of sunshine in their life right now… 

The quality of life for most has certainly been undermined by the quarantine, and young people in particular can’t wait to get back out on the beach and do other outdoor activities.

So after all this is over, let’s get out, stay safe, and enjoy ourselves in the sunshine.