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Staying Put

Last week’s post prompted a comment from one of my favorite, online writer friends. In his A World of Words blog, and well as widely published articles and guest posts, Sven eloquently captures how I feel. He points out eco-focused problems with an appropriate dose of humorous storytelling and then wraps up his perspective with real possibilities for change. Like me, he is of German descent, so he is tenacious. He keeps laying down building blocks, because he stubbornly believes things can change.

He spun my rant against a disconnected, forever-traveling society into encouragement for more tales about the benefits of remaining grounded in place when he wrote:

“…structural changes have to be driven by cultural changes. And those cultural changes I believe can come through the stories we tell about how enjoyable it is to have mom & pop stores or nearby farmers…”

Although better described as heartwarming than enjoyable, The Valley Cafe immediately came to mind. Admittedly, I must drive 20 minutes to get to this little restaurant, but residents in the communities of East Greenville and Pennsburg are within walking or biking distance. (Again, admittedly, one would have to use the shoulder of a very busy Route 663 to get from Main Street to the cafe, but that’s one of those structural issues.)

Last year, I nominated The Valley Cafe for the local Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding Small Business award … and it won. As the nominator I was asked to introduce the catering manager and owner at the award ceremony.

Karyn and Craig Keyser

Below is a copy of what I said, offered to you (and Sven) as an example of the value in soliciting your local restaurant instead of migrating to a fancy chain in the next town:

When traveling back through history on a visit to any historic American town, three buildings seem to always be left standing: the jail, the bank, and the gathering place. The jail and bank still stand because their walls were fortified. The gathering place still stands because it fortified the town.

Sure, in these modern times, we’ve done a great job of building the ability for people to succeed alone. We have everything we need to remain isolated yet connected. However, I still believe that the gathering place is relevant to a community’s success. Therefore, I nominated The Valley Cafe for this award, because it is managed in a way that understands the simple strength that is community.

Any given weekday, you’ll find businesspeople using the cafe as a meeting room, allowed to linger, never rushed in order to fill the table with more orders. But what made me think of the Cafe for this nomination comes in the form of a story told to me by Karyn, the Cafe’s catering and marketing manager.

It was in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Neighbors were beginning to venture outside. They were beginning to realize that the public service warnings were accurate: the power was going to be out for days. Many were prepared for an outage; too few were prepared for week or more without heat, light, or stove.

It may have been luck that kept the lights on at the Valley Cafe following the hurricane, but it is the compassion of the staff that made it a respite to those in need of a warm place and a good meal. I got to talk with an exhausted Karyn one week after the storm; I learned just how much the cafe cared about people. Doing what it does best — food — it kept serving up what it could while allowing folks to eat slowly. She described one elderly lady who came regularly during that period, always alone, looking more weary and colder each day. Karyn told me she respected the woman’s privacy, but would gently inquire as to her well being, to make sure she was O.K., if there was anything she could do. In the end, it seemed just being open for business and letting her be at a table was exactly what she needed.

It’s a little story, told with an authenticity that could not be faked. This hospitality in an age of hurry-up-and-catch-the-next-customer is why I nominated The Valley Cafe for the Outstanding Business Award.

Nothing in that introduction talks about low prices, outstanding food, or unbridled variety, the things for which we drive all over the globe. I bet if you look closely enough, you can find a Valley Cafe in the shops and restaurants close to where you live, but in order to find out, you need to stay put.

And thanks for the encouragement, Sven. Consider this one more brick in the wall of change.

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