Any tour of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky or West Virginia seems like a trip through a fading past. As I cruise the back roads and byways of our region, the rumble of my Harley’s exhausts too often echo off abandoned buildings, empty shells and remnants of long-lost prosperity and shattered dreams.
On recent rides, I’ve cruised through the devastated towns like War, West Virginia; Harlan, Kentucky; Eden, North Carolina and Basset, Virginia. In each case, the town stands mute as a monument to corporate abandonment, shifting economic priorities and lost hope.
Textile mills and furniture factories relocated overseas or moved south of the American border through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The empty shells and abandoned buildings remain in various states of decay — reminders of manufacturing jobs that will never return, along with the prosperity that those jobs brought to communities.
Floyd County knows the economic bite of lost jobs. The textile factories that once boosted the area economy left long ago. Agriculture in the county is not the driving force of years gone by.
Yet Floyd is fortunate because it has found some salvation in tradition and heritage — particularly music. Tourists flock to town to visit the Country Store and clog away the night at the Friday Night Jamboree. Yet, too many county residents must still drive 60 miles or more for work but you don’t find many empty buildings or abandoned storefronts in Floyd.
But the main drag of Basset looks like a bombed out European town from World War II. The main street of downtown Eden, North Carolina is lined with empty buildings. The same is true in Fries, Virginia.
The current recession has turned the luxury McMansions of Smith Mountain Lake into abandoned eyesores. Some developments never opened but decay under the sun as weeds spout through the cracks in parking lots never used.
Blacksburg still struggles to find a formula for its downtown and retail areas. Books-a-Million is closing next week at the “manufactured main street development” at the entrance to the town. An independent coffee shot on University Boulevard closed without warning last week.
Some areas still thrive. Boone, North Carolina is packed with tourists. Riding back from Rocky Mount, North Carolina Monday, I inched along in traffic jams from the Research Triangle Area of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill.
Feast or famine. Little in between. That’s life in the area.