What is your favorite small city to visit?
Well, that might depend on what you want out of a small city. Every small city has the same basic features in addition to, of course, being small. There is a Main Street. There is usually a town square with an old courthouse. Most of them have mom and pop-type stores on Main Street, and they usually have parades for the Fourth of July, Veterans Day (or Memorial Day) and Christmas.
Some deviate a little. Some stick straight to that plan. Jonesboro, for example doesn’t have a Veterans Day or Memorial Day Parade. Perhaps it should, but it doesn’t. It does, however, have a Martin Luther King Jr. Parade.
But once you get beneath that veneer, you get to what can make or break a small town — its atmosphere. Not all small town atmospheres are created alike.
There is one town, which I will not name, that several of my co-workers love. It has a busy downtown with lots of folksy-type stuff going on all the time.
I personally have no real interest in it. It’s just a pit stop on the highway to me. The atmosphere is just a bit too uncouth and old fashioned timey-wimey for my tastes.
But I love me some Athens. Who doesn’t? It’s old school with a newer touch.
It might be because as far as small towns go, Athens — in general — is a rather cultured town. It has one of the best small town concepts of the last quarter-century — downtown artwork in the public arena.
Usually these are the swans, cows or pigs that each have their own distinctive look. Some cities use different animals. One city in North Carolina used winged horses.
Athens has bulldogs everywhere. You can probably guess why they chose bulldogs, but it’s cool. You’re walking down the sidewalk and you come across a giant bulldog in an old time football uniform.
Now, I have suggested in a previous column that one city in this area do artistic goat statues in honor of a “Goat Man” who used to come through the area. That has been turned into a running joke by city leaders, so I put this forward to the cities in Clayton and Henry counties — why not honor Clayton State University by doing swans or Loch Ness Monsters.
The Loch Ness Monsters would be cool because they’d be so unique, and it gives a city something to tout on its tourism brochure. Give people a reason to come see your cities and embrace public art at the same time.
But that’s not the only reason why Athens is such a great example of the perfect small town.
It has a thriving arts community as well. It’s probably best known (outside of the being the University of Georgia’s home) for its music scene, which has produced acts such as R.E.M. and the B-52s.
There are great performing venues with lots of unique charm. Most notable among these is the Georgia Theater, which couldn’t be stopped by the fire that gutted it in 2009. It has since re-opened and is rolling along just fine. However, there are countless clubs and restaurants that provide smaller venues for performers.
You can have a town that has restaurants with performing spaces, but it takes something big and great, like the Georgia Theater, to tie everything together. Otherwise, it just doesn’t work. You just have a group of wet noodles flopping in the wind without it.
So what would you consider a great small town to visit, and why? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and let me know. If I get responses I’ll share them with you in a future column.