America's Main Street: Small Towns Disappearing?

by frugalrvers

RVing through many rural communities, we've noticed small towns disappearing from America's Main Street. Boarded up businesses and store fronts everywhere you look...

Local shops are disappearing from small towns throughout America. Whether taking a relaxing drive through the rural communities across the Midwestern plains or visiting a quaint mountain town out west, the towns that used to thrive with stores and activity now bear a striking resemblance to ghost towns from long ago. Either storefront windows of local shops are empty with an eerily dark, vacant backdrop or they are completely boarded up altogether.

Disappearing Business Store Fronts Hits Home For Us Personally

My husband grew up in a tiny town in central Illinois, population 400. His family owned a truck stop back then and the little community had everything a person would need - a post office, grocery store, churches, school, gas station. Everything was within walking distance, including the homes of extended family members.

Driving back to visit these days is heartbreaking. Everything is boarded up and the locals remaining need to drive to the bigger city to get their needs met. There are still people inhabiting the town, but the "heart" of the community has stopped beating.

My Husband's Family Owned This Truck Stop Back In The Day

The Old Truck Stop
The Old Truck Stop

If You Grew Up In A Small Town, Are Many Of The Old Local Shops Gone?

So Are Many Small Towns Dying In The USA?

We have seen many small communities as we rv full time. From Idaho and Montana to the Dakotas, Illinois and Kentucky, it is beginning to look the same. Whether you are walking down America's actual Main Street or trekking the outskirts of the town, the local shops centered in the heart of town are closed. Remnants of an old gas station or grocery store sit abandoned on large corner lots, with grass pushing up through the cracked and worn asphalt. Driving by, you can't help but picture a time where cars flooded these businesses - when the people of the town were grateful to have everything they needed within walking distance.


The absence of local businesses does not mean that there is no population inhabiting these small cities. There are still signs of life all around. You can still see a mother pushing a baby stroller down Main Street. There are still smiling townsfolk dotting the sidewalks, appearing to be catching up on local news or sharing a good joke. Children still play out in the front yard and teenagers gather together to just "hang out." But there are few places to actually go to and on a rainy day, these small towns do have an abandoned look to them.


So why have the small stores disappeared? There are many theories - but the underlying theme in all of them comes down to money. Some towns have lost the large population needed to support local business owners, with families having to move to more urban areas to secure better paying jobs. Some stores have closed their doors because hard economic times have made it impossible for the owners to stay in business. One of the largest impacts, however, is the rise of major chain stores that have dotted the landscape across the country.


Stores like Walmart, large chain gas stations on the outskirts of town - all of these businesses have dealt a fatal blow to stores that used to thrive. The tough economic climate of today has forced even the most loyal community members to choose going to stores where they can stretch their dollars further instead of putting the money into area businesses and supporting their town's members. Small shops just cannot compete with the low prices offered by major store chains.


Local Shops In Small Towns Dying, But Other Businesses Thriving

While Some Move Out, Others Move In And Profit From The Community

There are some local small town shops that still appear to thrive on Main Street, however. Most small communities have a diner or coffee shop, where friends and neighbors can still gather to chat and catch up over a cup of coffee in the morning.


Another store that offers residents a convenience that can't be beat are hardware stores. People would rather not drive thirty miles just to grab a small item they need in an emergency. Of course, the local VFW, Eagles, Elks, etc. also have a lot going on for the community on weekend nights.


An interesting phenomenon has appeared as these local businesses are on their way out - some bigger businesses are on their way in. Almost every small town now has a chain gas station that not only offers gas, it also carries many groceries, household items, pet food and even take out meals such as pizza.


Also, dollar stores (in the midwest, Dollar General Stores are everywhere) have started popping up in these towns, frequently carrying groceries, while providing a quick and affordable place to purchase electronics, gifts, clothing, household goods and much more.


These new businesses moving in, however, are on the outskirts - there to catch the eye of those just passing through. Main Street still looks like a ghost town.


When we rv sometimes we walk through the heart of the city, and an eerie chill comes through us. You can just hear and picture the activity that once danced upon these streets - now just broken and abandoned sidewalks our feet carefully walk on.

The Song My Hubby Wrote About The Small Town Where He Grew Up

If you want to hear the song we perform (we're musicians on the side) about my hubby's small town, truck driving and more...listen to the song right here on our music website for free. Enjoy!

Or for more entertainment you can find us at

Updated: 04/25/2018, frugalrvers
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blackspanielgallery on 08/12/2015

Small businesses cannot compete because there is not enough volume to get breaks when they buy. While it is a sad situation, the people who no longer buy from them caused their demise. Yet, the people simply wanted greater selection and lower prices. Now, they can even avoid traveling to a large store and buy online.

frugalrvers on 05/01/2013

Thanks so much for commenting. It certainly is sad to see - and our rving lifestyle leads us to witnessing it over and over and over again. Most of our family is in Illinois, so we've seen so much during our travels.

PeggyHazelwood on 04/30/2013

This is so true. I'm from rural Illinois and it's sad to see so many small businesses that have to close because Walmart and Dollar General are the "better" options.

frugalrvers on 04/07/2013

Thank you Georgettejohn!
The scene you describe (I should have added the pizza huts, boarded up old movie theaters on the "square," etc.) repeats itself town after town. I feel so sorry for the youth in these towns, with no place to go except to "hang out" and "drive around" and who knows what else.

georgettejohn on 04/07/2013

I am from a small town and it has definately changed since I was a teenager. On Friday nights we would walk to the local main street pizza shop, stop at the local drugstore (to buy "cheaper" candy, and then run down the street to the movie theater. All of that is gone... The Movie Theater caved in years ago, The pizza shop closed (Pizza Hut on the other end of town now, along with Little Ceasers...) and the small corner drugstore has been replaced by Walgreens, Rite Aid, and of course...the Walmart Pharmacy. In so many ways it is sad. Instead of the hustle, bustle and excitement of Friday nights on Main Street, there is no minimal activity other than the cars passing through. Great Article Frugalrvers!

frugalrvers on 04/04/2013

Dustytoes, I am so glad you commented! This is what I needed...I know this isn't the universal across the USA...but in the midwest and northwest where we've been, the towns look the same, one after the other. It is good to hear that the northeast hasn't been impacted like the parts of the country we've seen. Appreciate you adding to this article!

frugalrvers on 04/04/2013

Ologsinquito, thank you for are so right. I think the youth get the most lost in this, having nowhere to go and potentially getting into trouble.

dustytoes on 04/04/2013

It's a little different where I live in the northeast. New England works hard to keep it's small town quaintness - up here in NH anyway - by keeping the big box stores to a minimum. I'd have to drive 30 minutes to Target, and I don't even know where the closest Walmart is. I currently live in a bustling small town and that seems to be the norm in this area. It is a shame to lose our small towns because they take our sense of community with them.

ologsinquito on 04/03/2013

This is very sad because these Main Streets were the pulse of the community. With no central gathering spot, the city or town becomes more fractured.

frugalrvers on 04/03/2013

Thanks for sharing, Brenda....those small towns are still so charming, but you can't get in most stores anymore. It is sad...and really hard for my hubby when we visit his old neighborhood.

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