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Continued: There's plenty of small-town America in Twin Cities south metro

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 7, 2013 - 4:05 PM

An article in this section a few years ago about attempts to bridge the across-the-highway cultures of suburban newcomers and old-town old-timers sparked a series of scathing exchanges online. An old-timer in one small town interviewed for this article was embarrassed to be unable to name a single one of the thousands of commuting newcomers living on basically the same patch of ground.

The blame went in part to a lack of common civic gathering places, other than churches, and that at least is beginning to get addressed in at least a pair of the towns.

Vanessa Birdsey, chief of the entire Scott County library system, was in Jordan last week helping with the installation of the furniture in that city’s new library, which is to open later this month. It will be quite a change, and one that has been awaited for many years.

The cramped, aging downtown library rang in at 1,100 square feet. The new one is about seven times as big.

“We’re finally catching up with all that growth,” she said.

Elko has had its new library in place now for about a year, and circulation of materials has more than doubled. The larger of the meeting rooms alone is nearly four times the square footage of the entire building the city had before.

“What we had,” said Tom Terry, the city administrator, “is not what most communities would expect of a library.”

Other amenities that could lead to more elbow-rubbing are arriving as well.

It is a “huge thing” for Elko, said Todd Anderson, president of that city’s chamber of commerce, to have the new Firehouse Grille, a nice sit-down restaurant, opening in a town too small to have attracted so much as a McDonald’s or any other form of fast food.

“I can’t tell you how happy people were when that was announced,” he said. “We probably had 80 ‘likes’ on our Facebook page within three hours. It was just ‘boom boom boom.’ ”

In fact, he ardently hopes that one side-effect of the monstrous roadwork headaches this spring and summer on Interstate 35, including shutdowns of entire segments of freeway leading in one direction, will be a tendency to try shopping closer to home rather than always tripping off to Lakeville or Shakopee — something he admits both he and his wife have been known to do themselves.

“I’m in Chaska right now,” he said by cellphone, “and it’s easy here to grab a few things and take two minutes to do it, while in Elko it can be a drive — though I do expect more retail within the next year or so.”

The Elko survey finds lots of folks dreaming of more shops in a town that lacks so much as a supermarket. But there’s a new satellite medical clinic, as a prelude to a full-fledged facility, and Jordan likewise will soon get the first pharmacy it’s had in a long time.

The irritants of inconvenience in a way are the flip side of the thing that residents value: the peace and quiet, the genuinely rural feel to things, even if the latest subdivision looks an awful lot like one in Shakopee.

If growth has slowed dramatically in all these towns, the truth is that in the hypergrowth years, the growth rate in Dakota and Scott counties was a major source of griping. If Elko New Market really were heading for 20,000 souls within the next couple of decades, as it once appeared to be, it wasn’t going to be that small.

There are advantages to small, said Jordan chief Malz.

“We’re pretty rare around here in that we don’t, for instance, have an alarm ordinance; most of the big suburbs give you a couple of false alarms and then start charging. I refuse to do that. Obviously we don’t get the volume that bigger places would — they simply don’t have time to go to multiple alarms. Me, I just called a gas station whose alarm kept going off and said, ‘Hey! Fix your alarm!’ ”

 

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