Editor’s note: To wrap up the year, The News began with our history and we’re moving into a piece about the benefits of local business by our community specialist, Drew Walker. As we move into 2019, readers will see stories like this one occupy this space as we further embrace our community and build out all The News has to offer.
It’s a question I often hear when I tell people I’m from Walker. Even some native Louisianians have never heard of Walker. They may have heard of Denham Springs or Livingston Parish, but that’s not guaranteed. It became so common a response that I eventually just started answering I was from Baton Rouge.
And that, in a nutshell, is one of the greatest problems facing the municipalities that comprise our home parish – everything about our identity is often tied to our proximity to the Capital City.
Our outward facing marketing materials, such as the Parish Council website, the City of Denham Springs website, and even our own residents, consistently refer to our towns and cities as “bedroom communities,” tacitly emphasizing that we sleep here, but life really happens elsewhere.
For a long time, that’s how I felt about Walker, too. I’ve watched my hometown grow from a one-stoplight village to an expanding city. Even with the growth, I never really felt a sense of pride or connectedness in my community, it was, in some hard to describe sense, nowhere.
Then the flood happened.
As many have noted, the flood brought out the best in our community as neighbors helped each other evacuate or clean out their homes. It also showed us the truly amazing things that happen when neighbors band together.
The flood presented Livingston Parish with an opportunity – to take stock of where we were, and where we were headed.
As we move beyond recovery, it’s easy for the bonds formed in the tempest of tragedy to weaken as we all have our own concerns and life returns to something resembling normal. But, if we don’t hang on to the lessons learned from this shared tragedy, we will have let an important lesson slip between our fingers.
Livingston Parish has seen a population explosion in the past few years, and we have struggled to keep up with the influx of new residents. Not only has our infrastructure lagged behind our growth, leading to traffic that is becoming increasingly nightmarish, but we have been slow to adopt the amenities that meet the needs of the young families new to the area as well as residents who have been here through it all.
The ties that bind us to one another run deeper than the floodwaters. But, too often, we seem to forget these bonds. We allow ourselves to let our own individual concerns create a myopic worldview that sees everything in terms of how it affects us as individuals, not as a community.
Of course, it is often necessary to take care of our own business, but it blinds us to the fact that, just as often, the needs of the community beyond our own front yards are our own needs.
One of the best ways to build our community up, and make it even better than it was pre-flood, is to support our locally-owned and operated businesses.
Local businesses are owned by our neighbors. They are the ones who take risks and invest in our community.
They see the possibility of Livingston Parish being more than a bedroom community and have decided to take the leap to help make it so. These entrepreneurs and their businesses, along with our support of them, are vital to the future of Livingston Parish as we move beyond recovery from the flood toward a more vibrant, resilient community.
They can help us become a place where life happens and a destination for non-residents.
It’s not easy to start a business and it’s even harder to make it successful, but there are examples of just that throughout our towns and cities.
After suffering from an electrical fire earlier this year, the reopening of Charlie’s in October was greeted by the residents of Springfield with enthusiasm as an institution of that community was finally made whole.
The Whistle Stop has been in business at the edge of Denham Springs’ Historic District since the mid-1990s. It has gone through several ownership changes but has persevered through everything the city has faced and remains a staple for residents and the thousands who flock to the festivals held throughout the year.
This newspaper, in fact, is closing out it’s 120th year of providing a local perspective on the news and information that affects our communities, facing its share of challenges and changes in that time but remaining as the journal of record for the parish.
There are countless other stories of success.
The challenges remain, however, and are multiplying as technology advances and our growing area becomes more attractive to chains and big box stores.
Cheaper prices and the convenience of online shopping draw many dollars away from the community.
But our homegrown businesses are more than just suppliers of goods and services. They offer something these other businesses can never hope to replicate. Where outside businesses offer a bland sameness, our businesses reflect who we are. They are a part of the fabric of our community.
These businesses and their owners, in short, are us. They help define Livingston Parish and give back in ways beyond measure. If we return the faith and confidence these businesses have shown in us, together we can put Livingston Parish on the map.