Main Street in Lewistown has all the charm of a nostalgically imagined 1950s town. Except half the stores are closed. The husks of businesses haunt the streets, staring emptily across the street, often at another closed storefront. Many seem recently closed, like the China Garden, which boasts a confusing array of closed signs. Others have clearly been sitting empty for years.
Poor Man's, also Pourman's Café depending which sign suits your fancy, is one business that hasn't yet succumbed to the weight of the economy. A collection of suntanned men fills the first table through the door. Their conversation follows the contours of polite small talk anywhere, including recapping the week's weather. Yesterday's rain, a conversation generously regarded as trite in Manhattan coffeeshops, commands attention and interest at the table.
The table swaps numbers. Some are thinking they'll be out half their crop's value if rain isn't put on the forecast. Everything seems to have a different significance here. This is the world where Tammy runs her restaurant. Named after country legend Tammy Wynette, she was born on a ranch just outside of town. Her childhood was spent near home in Giltedge, an old gold-mining-turned-ghost town just east of Lewistown where she lives now.
With that little aside, Tammy hinted at one element of the mystery of why town was so sparse, why main street seemed to be a diminished version of itself. The area all around seemed to be evolving in ways that naturally nudge people away from sustaining once vibrant towns like Lewistown. She offered why at least the rural part of the area was drifting from the way she remembered it.
Tammy and her husband work in town, a step removed from agriculture now. Her husband came into town when he was still in school because his dad, who worked for the Fish and Wildlife Agency of the government, was relocated for work. Tammy was at first hesitant to say that he worked for the government because of the animosity that such a job can draw in a small town like this. She explains that people assume that government work comes with more money and stability and that is a wedge between people whose livelihoods are a bit more precarious and hard-tack. Even, and perhaps especially in town, it's hard to guess whether your work will stick around. The business closures frame the perspectives, anxieties, and animosities held in town.
Tammy's town tells the story of towns across the country, beginning to falter now after a thousand papercuts over the years. Children move away from the farms, goods are bought cheaper from box stores or shipped from far off warehouses after an online purchase, local shops shutter without the needed business from everyone in town, jobs vanish, workers leave, towns fade. Lewistown has a more robust core than many of the ghost-towns that punctuate the path leading into the area, but it's easy to imagine a day when it too can no longer weather the erosive sandblasting of local economies.