I remember when I was in high school, and after a game, my family would drive into town and find something for me to eat. Sometimes it was late, sometimes very late, but we could usually find, at minimum, a drive-thru to grab a cheeseburger or a taco.
I never realized growing up what a privilege it was to be able to drive to town and find something to eat at nearly any hour of the day. I never realized what a privilege it was to have choices of grocery stores and restaurants.
But I realize it now.
I grew up right on the outskirts of a city of more than 100,000 people, which means multiple grocery stores within 10 minutes, fast food restaurants on every corner, sit-down restaurants prominently featured in every business area.
Now I live about eight miles from a community of around 300 people. To put it lightly, there are a few less choices to pick up some food, whether in the grocery or ready-to-eat variety. To have the kind of options I had been accustomed to, we have to drive at least half an hour.
When I first moved to town, there was a little fast-food stand that would open in the summers. It was perfect for those nights where I had spent a little too much time in the garden and too little in the kitchen. And the first year I coached T-ball I appreciated it even more, as we could swing in for a quick meal after games or practices and still get my then-5-year-old to bed at a decent time.
But then it closed.
And we had a little grocery store here, but in the past year it, too, closed. Thankfully, a couple other stores in town stepped up their grocery offerings, so there always is somewhere to at least pick up staples when we need them. There also are two bars in town that serve food, which provides some options.
In the past month or so, many of us feared we’d lose another eating option when the local cafe was put up for auction. It could be purchased as a running business, and if no one bought it, it would be, basically, sold for its parts.
The cafe is the type you’ll find in many small towns: a bit rundown, but the food is hearty and plentiful, the people are friendly, and it has a good crowd of regulars. I won’t pretend I have ever been one of the regulars. We’ve popped in for breakfast or dinner from time to time, and I’ve never had a bad meal there.
Everyone around here would have hated to see it go. In busy farm seasons, you’ll see people stopping for to-go orders that will be eaten in a tractor. In hunting season, cars line the streets. And pretty much every morning, you’ll see familiar faces at the same tables, catching up on the local news and enjoying the fare.
There’s always a fear in a small town that one more business will close. One more service will go to the bigger towns. There will be one less reason for people to spend money here.
Thankfully, this time around, a local man bought the cafe with plans to continue running it.
Next time, we might not be so lucky. We all know that. And that’s why I’m going to try to pick up a few more meals there than usual in the next year.
As you’re thinking about 2021, consider finding ways to support your local businesses, however you can. Believe me: You’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's content manager. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-595-0425.