Financial incentives, economic development incentives, historic attractions, and charming facades—seriously, look at this list of the ten most charming small towns in Nebraska and you’ll perhaps sense the increasing incentives for people to move from the big city out to smaller towns. (We’re ready to pick up and move out to Chadron or Valentine any minute now.)
This is because, as CNN states, rural populations are dropping and the average age of their residents is rising. In Lone Rock, Iowa, a 146-member community, the residents are close-knit neighbors who have worked hard to keep their community alive. However, the average age in Lone Rock is now 57 years old, and there are relatively few young people to keep the tiny town hustling and bustling.
Lone Rock may be in Iowa, but Nebraska is no different. Without a distinct push to create jobs, support infrastructure, and drive population to the corners of rural Nebraska, populations in small towns will continue to dwindle. Unless, of course, you live in Lyons, Nebraska, where the residents have simply refused to let their town be wiped off the map.
The Sioux City Journal reports that the community of 851 people, searching for a hook to attract residents and put their town on the map, has pooled their efforts to build the Lyon Storefront Theater, hidden behind an ordinary building. The photographs are fascinating, because the storefront façade lowers down by hydraulic pulley to reveal bleachers “that can be pulled out, providing seating in front of a mobile screen pulled into place across the street. It’s an outdoor theater that’s given new life to a nearly forgotten city lot.”
Councilman Charlie Wheaton told the Sioux City Journal, “a lot of people bought into it. It helps bring people together. It’s pretty unique for a small city to pull together and put something like this together.”
Several local manufacturers were integral into to the completion of the exciting project. One such company was Vetick Construction, located in Lyons, and another was Brehmer Manufacturing, a Lyons company specializing in the manufacture of high quality truck and hoist products. The manufacturers modified the façade, poured concrete, and built a hydraulic system to raise and lower the storefront. Manufacturers weren’t the only assistants, though: the project also required volunteer time and the donation of bleachers from a nearby school district.
NetNebraska says that the project truly fulfilled a need for the community, and that it was “public artwork” that brought over one hundred people to the downtown area. Kat Shiffler, project manager at the Center for Rural Affairs, told NetNebraska that “we wanted to see the theater returned to the main street of a small town. Movie theaters disappeared a long time ago in towns of this size.”
With the help of residents throughout Lyons, including manufacturers and construction experts, Lyons has made the news throughout Nebraska and the entire country. It’s an inspiring story of how collaboration, creativity, and partnership can do wonders to perk up the life of a small town, drive traffic, and bring attention to a very important and necessary community experience. Hopefully, this type of collaboration will inspire others to do their part to revitalize small towns, manufacturers and citizens alike.