The Furnace of Democracy

My most recent “yes” was to a request to join the volunteer board of directors for the South Acworth Village Store.  This past Sunday the store had their yearly Open House to kick off the new year.  I was asked to give some remarks about the role of the store in the community which I’ve reprinted below.

I began with some stories from my childhood, since I first encountered the South Acworth Village Store when my family moved into the house next door when I was 8.

One of my earliest memories is of Nancy Stewart’s relish.  It was a housewarming gift — which was a can of homemade relish.  I don’t remember what kind.  Just that to my 8 yr. old, non-rural self it just looked weird.  But it’s that relish that I remember finding “weird” that in my mind now communicates what I’ve come to love about Acworth and what I love about the Village Store.  Homemade, homegrown, self-sufficient — quirky in a Ball jar.  Unlabeled.  An initiation into Acworth.
Living so close to the store, any time I had spare change I would find myself inside with a small brown paper bag counting out penny candy.  A few sour patch kids, a few swedish fish, a bazooka joe hard-as-rock bubblegum….

My Dad would commission me to buy the newspaper and give me an extra quarter for penny candy.  A just compensation for walking across the yard.
On hot summer days, my friends and I would ride our bikes around sometimes as far as the next town in order to swim at Vilas Pool (a small reservoir of the cold river, not a chlorinated bath tub).  We’d finish off our summer excursion at the Village Store with a cold IBC Root Beer.  And, of course, some penny candy.
You all and your children have similar memories and stories.

I think when we consider the importance of the store for the community.  We’ve got to think about the importance of a store like this for the kids in town.

And communities are not well without the laughter and noise of children in their midst.

In an article about rural grocery stores, David Proctor writes,


“Grocery stores are…important vehicles for community development. They serve as gathering places, where folks see one another, talk about the latest issues affecting their towns, and dream together about what their communities could be. Just like our local schools, cafes, and post offices, rural grocery stores are important community assets, providing tangible evidence of local strength and stability.”

(and this is a cafe, post office, and grocery store all-in-one)

The logic of the bottom line has spread like a cancer throughout American institutions.  We need to reclaim “economics as if people mattered” in the words of E. F. Schumacher.

The Village Store is this and can continue to be this:  buying and selling with a human face, with a neighborly face.

This store has stories of people helped, people getting food when circumstances were against them.

The truth is, when money fails us, we still have each other.  Sustaining our community life should be our first priority.

This is a place where people eat together, where people laugh, where people gripe, where people envision, where people play, where people debate.  And this is fuel for becoming neighbors, for becoming a community.  This is the fire that sustains our democracy.


One thought on “The Furnace of Democracy

  1. It seems like the primary function of the South Ackworth General Store is community building. The buying and selling of goods is the thing that gets people in the same location.

    Keep up the good fight Joel! Blessing be upon you and your community.

    Peace, CB

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