By: Cheryl Morse, PhD
What is the main purpose of your study?
This research project investigated the role that small independently operated stores play in the social operations of rural communities.
What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study?
The study revealed that stores fulfill many different functions in small towns, ranging from offering a meeting place where local people can share news and meet others, to a site for connecting local and global markets to operating as emergency centers during crises.
How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
The has been little work done on the role that built places like stores play in rural communities. However, in many ways the country stores studied for this research fulfill some of the same functions as pubs in rural villages in the United Kingdom. This research offers important lessons especially for rural communities in parts of the United States which are losing population and therefore the businesses that provide essential services of many kinds.
What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
In many rural communities, the country store is the only indoor location that is open to the public. These stores tend to reflect the cultural geographies of their broader communities. In Vermont, where this research was conducted, small stores offered the only electricity, food, telephone service, and communications center in communities that were cut off from the outside following the flooding associated with Tropical Storm Irene. In many respects, the presence of a small store in small towns adds to the social and environmental resilience of the community.
What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
The data for this study was analyzed using a multifunctionality framework. Multifunctionality acknowledges that landscapes and places provide many diverse services, beyond extractive outputs alone. Further, multifunctionality analyses attempt to identify the synergies that are produced by diverse uses of landscape that are conducted in proximity to one another. The country store research was an attempt to demonstrate that analysis of the built environment, including transportation infrastructure, community buildings, and social gathering, should be a central component of multifunctionality studies of rural landscapes.
How does your research help us think about Geography?
People live their lives through material interactions in places with particular characteristics. It is important to acknowledge the role that everyday built spaces play in the way people experience their hometowns.