How a Struggling Small Town Can Survive In Today’s World

How a Struggling Small Town Can Survive In Today’s World

The social media account ‘Revitalize, or Die’ analyzes small towns that are struggling economically and what they can do to bounce back. The account is run by Jeff Siegler, who has assisted hundreds of communities with revitalization, economic sustainability, and community development during his career.  The social page posts several interesting ideas and arguments about how smaller towns could be revitalized. One of his posts, in particular, could show how the town of Albion, Michigan could be saved.

Jeff has a background in urban planning, downtown district management, real estate, economics, and organization development. With his knowledge and expertise, he can assist communities with the troubles they face. He is passionate about revitalizing communities but is also brutally honest when it comes to helping communities that are struggling. He believes revitalization can enhance the quality of life in a community and create a stronger sense of community.

Going Retro

Think back to about a hundred years ago. What did a small town look like back then? Most likely, the downtown was dominated by small shops and businesses. These shops may be shoe stores, hardware stores, bookstores, record stores, jewelry stores, etc. Unfortunately, a lot of these small shops closed up as national chains and online shopping grew, and new methods of transportation arose. This was the case for Albion. Early on, many small businesses and shops filled downtown Albion. Then the world changed, and several of those stores ended up closing in the 80s. But could these types of stores make a comeback? This is certainly what Siegler is advocating for in his post.

Bill Dobbins, a lifelong resident of Albion and President and owner of Caster Concepts and ACE Investment Properties, remembers a time when Albion had a much more lively downtown. He is at the forefront of the revitalization of downtown Albion. For many years, Bill has been working on what is called ‘The Big Albion Plan.’ The plan consists of a large investment of capital covering multiple projects all over the downtown area. His plan is quite similar to what Jeff Siegler wants from small towns and has already shown many positive results.

 Investing Back Into the Community.

Though national chains have been much more prevalent in recent years, Siegler argues that those types of stores are meant for sprawl. They define sprawl as building more roads and expanding bigger cities. They are not ideal for small towns and their economies. Even if a small town has a chain restaurant like Chipotle or a retailer like Target, the money they make goes to those in corporate and shareholders. Siegler says, “These businesses are mining your towns for the precious resource of wealth.” Therefore, these chain stores are not helpful to smaller communities if they aren’t contributing much. It is important that wealth is circulating within the local economy, which is why small businesses are essential.

Here are a few detailed summaries of some of the types of business I am talking about:


This one is a given, and it is a critical factor, both for local residents and visitors alike. Restaurants not only provide food and refreshments, but serve as gathering places for friends, family, and for those visiting. They can provide other forms of entertainment such as live music, game nights, or watching sporting events if they have televisions. These are perfect for social interactions. They can also be a great place to sit down for anyone visiting. Restaurants can also speak to the culture and personality of their respective downtown with their unique food, beverages, or aesthetics.

Coffee Shops and Bakeries

Many people like to start their day with caffeine or a quick bite to eat. That’s what coffee shops are designed for. They are an excellent convenience for those on their way to work or who want to have a pastry. As they are usually small and cozy, they can be comfortable places for people who are either studying or trying to get some work done. Much like restaurants, they too can be excellent social hubs.

Downtown Markets

Want to shop for local food? Looking for exquisite food that is not found in your typical grocery store? Downtown markets are where you can find all of the above. Foods from the local community can be found in downtown markets. They often have a large variety of fresh foods — whether it is produce, organic foods, meat and dairy options from local farms, vegan, or gluten-free options.  In addition,  the customer service you may find at downtown markets is very friendly and welcoming and may go above and beyond expectations to assist a customer. It’s all about creating a personalized experience.

Gift Shops

Gift shops may not be the first thing that comes to mind for an important business, but they offer unique items from the locals, adding to the town’s culture. Something you may not find at Target or Amazon. Plus, gift shops can have a feeling of nostalgia that contributes to the downtown atmosphere and charm as they are usually small in size.


Of course, visitors need a place to stay overnight if they are going to be in town for an extended period of time. Hotels can be used for a large variety of functions. They are helpful when family is coming over and need a place to sleep or for anyone who is hosting a business meeting, a conference, a party, or a class reunion. Hotels can also contribute to a town’s nightlife.

Entertainment Venues

Entertainment venues can be a multitude of things. They can be used for concerts, plays, and ceremonies, and they can be movie theaters. Entertainment centers are especially important for nightlife since most entertainment events are held during the evening. According to research done by the University of North Carolina, about 70% of consumer spending takes place after 6 p.m. Not only are these venues ideal for several forms of entertainment, but they can generate a lot of revenue and attract visitors to the rest of downtown.

Beauty and Hair Saloons

Most people get a haircut a few times a year, if not several times. But haircuts aren’t the only service these businesses can offer. They can color nails, do your makeup, or give you a tan among other things. Like many other businesses, they too can be a social hub since hair saloons have repeat customers.

Look at Marshall

The neighboring town of Marshall is a great example of this model that Jeff Siegler proposes and has almost all of the businesses listed above. Their downtown is booming with all kinds of small shops. Marshall has a jewelry shop, gift shops, restaurants, a hardware store, a winery, a gallery, and many more. And they shape the kind of character and personality Marshall has. Residents and visitors alike visit downtown Marshall because there is a lot of stuff to do and visit. Marshall does well in that regard. If you visit downtown Marshall, you may get a sense of nostalgia. It’s almost as if you’re going back in time.

This concept may seem like a stretch, but it could offer a solution for Albion. And Albion doesn’t have to copy every little thing Marshall has but can take inspiration from it and go from there. Small towns have to adapt to a constantly changing world and not be afraid to try to do try something if they want a path forward. Bill Dobbins’ Big Albion Plan is a great example of the efforts to do just that for Albion.