Quiet sidewalks, empty store fronts and vacancy signsâ?¦ familiar sights in many rural towns across America.
â??Well we would like to see our Downtown be utilized again. You know weâ??ve had a lot of vacant store fronts,â?? said Brookfield Economic Development Coordinator Becky Cleveland.
As more and more young people set their sights on life in the city, many of those small towns begin to fall behind.
â??Rural communities have it tough. Thatâ??s my job doing economic development, and itâ??s an uphill battle,â?? said Cleveland.
Not only are many rural communities shrinking, for towns like Brookfield, time is starting to take its toll.
â??Well truly, it began in 2004 when our theater, the DeGRAW theater, our iconic 100 year old theater, which started as a beautiful Opera House, collapsed. And our buildings were collapsing as they are in a lot of rural communities which is a problem we all face,â?? said Cleveland.
So when the people of Brookfield saw their town start to literally crumble around them, they decided to take matters into their own hands.
â??The folks in this community decided a few years back that if this community was going to survive, itâ??s because they did it. Itâ??s not going to happen from the outside, and so they are doing it,â?? said Cleveland.
They started holding meetings, planning a grand revitalization project, beginning with the heart of downtown â?? Twin Parks.
â??So we kind of got together and said you know, weâ??re going to have to do something, and it was slow, but steady, a little at a time, and now itâ??s really ramping up,â?? said Cleveland.
After a facelift for the civil war soldier on Main Street, and the dedication of the townâ??s new Walk of Heroes, theyâ??re off to a great start. But their grand plans donâ??t end there.
â??Weâ??re going to take this revitalization effort, all the way down Main Street,â?? said Cleveland.
Asking residentâ??s what theyâ??d like to see and encouraging small businesses to open, theyâ??re already starting to see results. Miss Maryâ??s Marketplace just opened and suddenly people have a reason to go downtown again.
â??Actually weâ??re already kind of seeing that you know, and weâ??re seeing people walking up and down the streets like they used to and thatâ??s a good feeling for folks,â?? said Cleveland.
But their efforts go beyond business â?? the people make the town what it is, and city leaders want to make sure every one of their young citizens knows what a valued spot in the community.
â??We decided a few years ago that not one young person would graduate from our school without an invitation to come home, and every graduating senior, and weâ??ve done it for seven years now, has received a rural route mailbox with their name on it with an invitation to come home,â?? said Cleveland.
Progress is slow, but as more and more projects are checked off the list, pride in the community only continues to grow.
â??The community members are very proud of their community. Thatâ??s what I see. And theyâ??re happy because so many of the messages that we receive about rural communities are so negative and so this is positive and everyone needs that. There is a lot of hope, and a lot of future for rural communities, we just have to do the work, and I think we are,â?? said Cleveland.
Work that proves this rural community is still very much alive.