Bastrop: Another Small Town Down

I moved to the little town of Bastrop, Texas in May of 2000. Back then, it was just a sleepy little town with a straight shot to the “new” Austin Airport. There weren’t really many chain stores even, except for the rural Texas staples: HEB, Walmart, Walgreens, Tractor Supply, McCoy’s, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Dairy Queen.

Now, 18 years later, we have all the fashionable chains of every other place in the country. We have both a Home Depot and it’s corresponding Lowe’s. We have a Starbucks, but only one. We have a Best Buy, Staples, Hobby Lobby, Office Depot, Academy and a Spec’s (Texas liquor store supreme). We have Chili’s and Panda Express, a Carl’s Jr(it closed yeah!), two Jack In the Box’s, two Walgreens, a CVS, and no less than three auto parts stores.  Oh, and banks.  We have more banks per capita than anywhere else in the world, I bet.

I’m torn about all this growth. I moved here to get away from people and the crowds, but they followed me. It’s made my life more convenient, because I don’t have to drive 40 minutes into Austin for much anymore, unlike the days when we first moved here, and we had to take weekly trips in.

But still, I struggle with the growth and the acceptance of growth in the community, while even I was drawn to the area from afar. Clearly, what I sought out is what my fellow 40,000 plus neighbors sought out as well. We have a natural tendency to want to shut and lock the door behind us as we enter a new area and of course, we hate change, especially change that hits too close to home. Nothing hits closer to home than a growing, changing community.

The old jail, part of the historic courthouse.

What destroys me the most, though, isn’t the pure growth, it’s the loss of the look and feel of the small town I moved to. With each new chain store, branding itself so strongly that they fight the city council for “variances” to allow their gaudy branded neon trademarked signs to be displayed, I feel we lose our identity as a small town in Texas. I’d move, but for fear that I would drag with me whatever drew all these people here in the first place, ruining some other such bucolic, pristine town. I just can’t be part of that again.

Maybe it’s that part of me that laments what the country used to look like before the superstores and giant retailers. I miss the mom and pop stores of old. I miss the old neighborhood hardware stores of my youth.

Possibly, it’s my kindred spirit with Victor Hugo in my feeling that “Nothing oppresses the heart like symmetry.” All these cookie-cutter shopping centers rob an area of its uniqueness. I could drop you in any state on a clear day, and you wouldn’t be able to tell where you were without looking at the license plates of the cars. I find that sad and depressing. It robs me of the desire to travel to experience new things when I look around and see exactly the same things as I see at home.

It’s also very likely it’s just my nature as I get older to become more and more crotchety and irritable – the “Get off my lawn” syndrome of aging.

Either way, I miss my little town and I know it’s gone forever.

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