I grew up in Winchester, Virginia, a small town of 20,000 (in 1980) about 75 miles west of metropolitan Washington DC. We disaffectionately called it “Funchester” because there was nothing to do except cruising. There’s one place I affectionately crave when I come home for a visit, Pack’s Frozen Custard, still there at the corner of Weems Lane and Loudoun Street. I got the medium purist vanilla cone last night, just minutes before the frozen custard stand closed at 9:00pm.
And this morning, I found a new Starbucks at 161 Suite 5 (not sure of the exact street address), where I am blogging this. It’s not listed in the official Starbucks directory, even though it’s been open since October 2006; it’s located just east of the interchange of I-81 and Route 7, on the edge of Winchester, amidst a giant strip mall with dozens of franchise stores. There’s another one opening in Winchester in a few months, followed by even smaller towns Stephens City and Front Royal in 2008.
It’s not really gentrification. It’s micropolitan. Winchester Virginia used to be a rural outpost where population was sparse and the economy sleepy, a stop for tourists travelling through the Shenandoah Valley corridor on the way to Florida for the winter migration or viewing the colorful Fall leaves. Now small towns like Winchester are filling the gaps on the map between major cities. The new term — Micropolitan Statistical Areas — recognizes that even small places far from metro areas are economic hubs that draw workers and shoppers from miles around. [cf. June 2004 USA Today article, Small-town USA goes 'micropolitan']
Unbelievable — all the big brands are here now, even newer brands: Borders, Olive Garden, Circuit City, Five Guys, Maggie Moo, Target, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Quizno’s, Red Hot & Blue, et al. Of course, Wal-Mart was already here years ago.