Will We Support Our Own Community?

by Ken Allsup

I wrote this back in 2020 as I watched businesses look to call Oskaloosa home, and others closed as shop owners retired, or closed down. I see this today, and watch as our community continues to damage itself. It’s not just the local government damaging our community, it’s also us, the community member.

When businesses look to our community to call home, they are often subject to harsh criticism by the citizens they hope to serve. Why would they choose to invest here?

I think it’s up to the community as a whole to change the culture. Without that change, Oskaloosa and in turn, Mahaska County are in trouble.

Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below. Where am I right or wrong, and what do you think we can do better as a community?

I’d like to share a few thoughts in a story form.


I’ve so enjoyed reading local history. It often leads to many folks reminiscing about the ‘good ol’ days of Oskaloosa.’

Oskaloosa is no different than most towns, as people relied on local stores to help supply their daily wants and needs. For example, a boy could go to the local Western Auto store and admire that bright red Radio Flyer wagon, eventually counting his money and knowing he had enough to buy it.

Then, cars became more common, and as their price declined, gas was inexpensive. So it became something to do to pile into the family car and make the trip to Des Moines, Iowa City, or your favorite out-of-town destination to just “get away” for a little bit.

The number of dollars going to area businesses and restaurants soon decreased. However, it didn’t have to be by much, as many mom-and-pop shops operate on a very thin margin.

Pretty soon, that Western Auto store was gone. Kids stopping in to check out their latest wants were replaced by weekend trips the family made to Des Moines and the mall. That trip served as a getaway from the daily grind at home. We all get it.

It wasn’t long, and the men’s clothing store shuttered, as the store in some distant city absorbed those dollars because it was important to save a few dollars. Those extra dollars went into the gas tank, and since you were making a day of it, stopping by the local burger place while the older couple who had served your Dad’s favorites quietly ‘retired’.

Now, you are familiar with the growth and shiny appearance of some faraway shopping destination, and you are disappointed in your community as buildings sit empty and begin to decay.

So you load up in the car and head to where the things you need are at now, the malls or shopping centers of a larger town because you can no longer find that item in town. While you are there, you make a day of it and get the rest of what you need.

Pretty soon, you see pictures of your family and friends standing by the lunch counter that used to make the best burgers. A photo of Mrs. so and so, who always knew what size you needed, reminds us of that excellent personal service we used to get at the women’s clothing store or restaurant.

Unfortunately, we just keep losing business here. I don’t understand. We used to have such a vibrant shopping experience.

Now, we have ‘discount’ centers that have moved into town and chip away at the shopkeepers who have managed to hang on against the malls.

It’s still just so easy to hop on that four-lane highway and zoom off to Des Moines. There they have some of the freshest ‘box-marts’ around, offering some new stuff at affordable prices. Of course, since we are here, we run off to the latest chain restaurant we saw advertised on television.

As we drive to work in Oskaloosa or another town we call home, we look at our community, often disgusted, and think it’s terrible that our community leaders haven’t done more to keep this town the bright, vibrant, well-visited community it used to be.

It’s a shame they tore down all those great old buildings to put a mall in the middle of our downtown. It’s too bad they got in such terrible shape. If the business owners hadn’t just let them run down, they’d still be here today. I really miss the theater. Saw my first movie there. Good thing the five plex in Des Moines is still in business. Besides, they have a better snack bar.

Look at this, a free disk to AOL, and now I can dial up the latest shopping, and it gets delivered to my door. I don’t even have to run off to Des Moines now to shop. Thank goodness, cause that drive was beginning to be such a pain.

Look at that, some old video of a parade in Oskaloosa. Seems like such a long time since high school. I remember how fun it was to be downtown, hang out in the square, and cruise on a Saturday night. It’s a shame our town looks so dirty and broken down. Why didn’t people keep this from happening? Don’t we have any community pride anymore? I sure wish I could get a good burger in town, so I guess I’d better get going out of town for some dinner.

Wow, did you hear that the mall in Des Moines is struggling and may close? Thankfully I have discovered Amazon and so many other great shopping opportunities online. I can shop in the middle of the night if I want. If I could only sit down to a meal in town versus the fast-food drive-up.

My friend has this wonderful antique and a repurposed board with lettering stenciled on it. They found it downtown here? Who would have guessed that you could get something like that here? A new sit-down restaurant opened up in town. That’s great, but they’ll never make it. Oskaloosa has no luck keeping restaurants, and they are all terrible.

I’ll just run to Des Moines quick and see if I can find something new to hang on my wall. Is that trend called repurposing? Thankfully they have a good selection of restaurants to eat at. I’ll be back in time to watch Netflix this evening.

My take on so much is that it’s up to everyone to help keep our towns and communities vibrant. Sure, a trip out of town to buy or eat is fun, but remember your money stays here in Oskaloosa when you shop and eat. That money helps others decide to take a risk on us.

When you see those old photos of a vibrant shopping environment, remember, we, the community members, make that happen. It happens in nearby communities and could very quickly be that way here. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it takes us all making that commitment to make Oskaloosa that destination again.

So when our kids and grandkids look at photos from now, they will look back and go, wow… I remember when.

Posted by on Jun 26 2022. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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