Loose Ends: Measuring change

Dolly Viscardi
The old saying “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” is not as self-explanatory as it seems. Change in appearance of places and of people is the one visible way to assess change but often what has transformed beneath the exterior goes undetected.
The United States Census Bureau assesses change by collecting and studying the demographics of an area. The changes noted give us an indication of what areas of our community life are the same or in a state of flux. An increase or decrease in population is often detected first, while the amount of traffic (both foot and vehicle) often gives residents a feel for whether the town is in the predictable boom or bust cycles.
Yet, the number given for the 2010 census for overall county population (as reported in the Herald Times recently) increased by 11.4 percent and the specific numbers mentioned for each community were 2,475 for Meeker and 2,365 for Rangely. Hmmm, that sounds about right. Most long-time residents would have predicted that number. Ask anyone how many people live in Meeker and the estimates for the past 10 years have been anywhere between 2,200 and 2,500.
The old-timer’s method of predicting the community’s demographic ups and downs depends on counting the number of new faces at the post office each morning. It isn’t until warm weather and the traditional family gatherings such as high school graduation, the Oldtimers dinner and dance, or the July 4th celebration, that residents all over town hear “Whatever happened to…?”
The names of the businesses or the people may be different but the same question indicates the town has seen more than a few changes over the years.
Better roads and Internet shopping are two of the leading change-makers. The merchants continue to lament about the increased sales leakage due to out-of-town shopping expeditions. Meeker is not alone. People all over the country have expanded their definition of home. Communities all over the country have experienced the drain of downtown commerce because of easier accessibility to goods and services. Competing with the big box stores and the World Wide Web is a constant challenge for merchants.
Business organizations are attempting to help merchants deal with these issues best by specializing in areas that are important locally. While many of the long-time businesses talk about trying to give people what they need most, the challenge of being able to offer a wide-enough selection for a decent price remains.
Much like the Internet businesses that monitor the demographics of their shoppers, small towns need to become expert number crunchers to determine what their demographics indicate about the local population. How a community moves through change often defines how viable it is in the future.