Things to think about before moving to a small town

Are they a good fit for you?

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The SuperValu in Steele, N.D., is a full-service grocery store for the community about half an hour from Bismarck. Supporting such local businesses is part of small town life. Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

I know a youngish family that might be moving to a small, rural farm town. The parents โ€” one has limited experience with small towns, the other virtually none โ€” think a small town could be a good place to live and raise their children . People who know the couple, and also have extensive first-hand knowledge of small towns, have cautioned them to build an informed, balanced judgment before making the move.

Through the years I've known a fair number of people who moved to small towns. Some were happy with the results, some were not. Based on what I've seen and heard, I offer these completely unsolicited observations to anyone interested in making a small town their new home.

Avoid stereotypes

Small towns sometimes are portrayed as filled with salt-of-the-earth folks, all brave, honest and reliable. That's nonsense. Yes, there are some terrific people. But there also are some flat-out bad people. And there are a whole lot of people somewhere between those extremes. It's true of big cities, it's true of small towns.

And small towns sometimes are viewed as populated with a bunch of yokels. That's nonsense, too. Yes, there are some folks who couldn't find the United States on a world map even if you pointed out North America. But there also are highly thoughtful, well-informed residents. And there are a lot of people somewhere between those extremes. Again, that's true of both big cities and small towns.

Nor do small towns all have the same outlook on newcomers. Some are warm and welcoming, some are standoffish. Many fall somewhere in between.


Have a reliable vehicle

Small towns inevitably offer limited options for shopping, services, worship and entertainment. They often have non-existent health care choices. If you live in a small town, you'll probably drive frequently to the nearest city, sometimes in nasty winter weather.

Shop locally

If the small community does have local businesses โ€” I'm thinking particularly of a grocery store โ€” be prepared to patronize them. That doesn't mean you can't shop at big chain stores when you visit the nearest city. But it's in your enlightened self-interest to support competently run local businesses. You have a civic obligation to do it, too, or so it seems to me.

Think of the children!

School-age children can be a crucial factor, and rightly so, in the decision of whether to move to a small town. Every family situation is different, and it's up to parents to determine how their children would fare in a particular rural school district. There are far too many variables for me to make generalizations about what's best.

But I will say this: Rural schools are perfectly capable of preparing their students for life after high school, whether it's college or a job.

All the familiar faces

If you live in a small town, it's not unusual to keep running into the same people. You see them at the grocery store, at church, at school events and elsewhere. That's great if you get along, not so good if you don't.

Just hangin' out

It's basic human nature to associate with people who are roughly our age and share similar interests. We spend time with other people, too, of course, but naturally we're most comfortable with folks we regard as peers. Finding them in small towns can be difficult, especially for young couples. If you live in a small town, you may need that reliable vehicle I mentioned earlier to go and hang out with friends in other communities.

Many Agweek readers, I'm sure, have strong and knowledgeable opinions on the relative merits of life in a small town. Please drop me a line and share your thoughts. What advice would you give to someone interested in moving to a small town?

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