By Bailey Marshall
Buchanan, Virginia is small but not isolated. Buchanan is only thirty miles away from the nearest city, so really it could be worse, right? Let’s be real. The opportunity for economic development is prevalent. Buchanan is located right along Appalachian Trail and the James River nearly runs through the town, making Buchanan the perfect place for outdoor recreation. Buchanan is also a stop off for one of the busiest highways on the east coast, Interstate 81. You would think with all of the traffic coming off I-81 alone, business would be booming, but it is not. Why is this? Why do businesses fail so often, and what makes the ones that do not fail successful?
In the early days of Buchanan’s establishment, the town, that was not yet a town, served as a transportation hub. Because it was situated between mountainous valleys and along the river, Buchanan provided a great segway between civilizations in order to transfer raw materials. In fact, “the Town of Buchanan has always been distinguished as the point of intersection between two principal transportation corridors: the great northeast-southwest overland route west of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Pennsylvania and the old Upland south; and the James River, the principal river system of central Virginia that provides an east-west route for transport of goods from Mountain and Valley Region, through the Piedmont, to the Tidewater and Chesapeake Bay,” according to townofbuchanan.com.
Buchanan is known for being a prime location for fostering economic development, so as the twenty-first century began, why did growth become stagnant?
For starters, Buchanan has a population of 1,094. The median age for people who live in the town is over forty years old… not the generation that fosters a vibrant social life. Out of those 1,094 people, only 584 of them are employed, which aids in creating a poverty rate of 6.31%. If all of that weren’t enough to aid in keeping an economy stagnant, the average household income has declined over 4% since 2010.
So what? There are towns all across the United States that are small but also contribute largely to the economy, which allows them to pour money back into their town. Something must be off if the Buchanan Carnival attributes the largest economic impact of the town every year.
Some blame it on the town’s aging rules. For example, it is illegal to play live music past 9:00 p.m. at night unless you purchase a special permit. There goes the night bar and music scene for young people. It is also illegal for people under the age of eighteen to go to a dance hall or any kind of place that fosters a dancing environment. The list goes on and on. It is also hard to pay town utilities as a business owner starting out if you do not have a lot of traffic. That fact combined with a non-conducive environment for a social scene, makes it challenging to keep a business afloat in Buchanan.
Rules and regulations are necessary, yes, but rules are also meant to be changed to keep up with the ebb and flow of society. Small towns come with small-minded people; not everyone is open to having music playing past their bedtime, to be frank. This lifestyle is slow, and it is what we are used to as Buchanan residents. That’s fine, really it’s fine, if you want the town to remain the same as it watches the world grow around it.
However, there is hope. Businesses have been succeeding in Buchanan. In fact, “The Foot of the Mountain Cafe,” situated right off the Arcadia exit in the northern part of Buchanan, is thriving. With local support and business from those traveling up the I-81 corridor, “The Foot” has the right idea. Buchanan may not have enough traffic coming solely from locals, so let's have restaurants and festivals that target an out-of-town audience. The town still gets the money whether it is from the townspeople or not.
For example, The Beaver Dam Farms’ Annual Sunflower Festival brings people from across the state to participate in their unique fall tradition. Also in the summer, a reggae festival is hosted by the town. The festival allows people to enjoy the James River, one of Buchanan's finest assets, and just relax with friends.
The beautiful thing is that it’s proven that Buchanan is capable of supporting itself economically. Buchanan is however at a crossroads. If Buchanan doesn't make some changes to encourage permanent business in the town, Buchanan will eventually not be able to support itself fiscally.