I had the chance to take a three hour trip to see my brother. He recently moved his family for a better job. The trip was nice and a major city between to even larger cities.
This post is more about the trip back home, and this post has been on a slow simmer for a few weeks. Our timing, and talking at the breakfast table led us to leave later than we had planned. We had to take a lunch break for the boys, since they were "starving". We exited the freeway twice, and started through two small towns looking for something to satisfy the boys hunger pangs. Small Town America is not doing well. For people familiar with kid's movies, Radiator Springs is happening. The store fronts are for rent, the paint is peeling on most of the buildings, and the homes look about the same.
We ended up at an Arby's in a small town on a Sunday afternoon around 1:00pm. The store was dirty, two hourly employees on duty, and it was in obvious disrepair. This isn't the disrepair of unsafe cooking conditions, but rather subtle clues as to the amount of money being spent on maintenance. I've spent the last twenty + years in the industry, and employee hours and maintenance are the first things to be reduced when times get rough.
Some of the first budget items to be dropped for the consumers are upkeep, eating out, and car insurance. In my not-so-old-age, I have had to do all three of these at one time in my own life.
Independent restaurants in your area are a canary in the coal mine. The reason that non-corporate chains are the canary is because they don't have the advertising dollars and name recognition. In our own town, 3 big independent local eateries have shut their doors. The most recent being the most painful for me, an Italian restaurant that has been open for over 50 years. It has been a family tradition for the birthday person to pick their restaurant of choice for a family get together, and this place was often my pick.
The future will bring many more restaurant closures. Starting mainly in the most rural locations and spreading to the urban centers as the family budget gets squeezed. The small stores will close, and the for rent signs will become a permanent fixture on many buildings. The inhabited homes will become more rundown, and the landscape will also suffer.
In my insulated world, I was surprised to see the reality of my rural cousins. Keep Right On and get yourself in the best position possible for the coming storm.