Originally appeared in the Chautauqua Region Word (5/28-6/10/09 Issue)
Ten years ago I graduated from college and was on the casual search for a job. By casual I mean I waited about three weeks after I crossed the stage at Commencement to start idly sifting through online job listings. I didn’t know that in another week and a half I’d be packing up my car and moving to Jamestown to start a job in radio news.
My first impressions of Chautauqua County were shaped by the people I met while interviewing. A future co-worker gave this ringing endorsement, “This may be a small town, but it’s a great place if you want to raise a family. The schools are great. It’s a beautiful area.”
Being 22 at the time, my immediate internal reaction was, “Well, they have a Wegman’s, so I’ll make do for now.” I realistically only planned to live in this county for two years. Plus, growing up near a city, I couldn’t fathom the idea of being away from the “civilization” of coffee shops open until midnight, radio stations that played music I liked, cool little restaurants of varying ethnic variety, and a Target.
I didn’t count on Chautauqua County being a place that had a way of sucking me in ever so slowly.
One hot summer day in 2001, I found myself eating lunch in Lakeside Park in Mayville. An idyllic scene floated in front of me. Kids fishing off the boat landing. The weeping willow dripping tendrils of leaves just above the water's surface. And the horizon shimmering in the summer's haze across the lake. I wondered how I had found this place. It was then that I realized I had fallen in love with Chautauqua County.
A few years later I married a guy I met at that first job. Questions of whether we’d stay here were quieted for awhile when we bought a house in Jamestown a year after that.
I’ve been blessed to meet so many people in this county. Living here is a bit like being part of a slow cooked meal. All the ingredients are in the pot. It’s just going to take some time and patience to make it all come together. When it does, it’ll be extraordinary.
During the past ten years, I’ve seen downtown Jamestown transform - with just the opening of a few places - into somewhere you can get a cup of coffee at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, catch an up-and-coming music act that’s doing a stop-over performance before a gig in New York City, watch a hockey game, or just hang out with friends over drinks in a bar sans televisions.
There’s the reality of living here. The county had a 9% unemployment rate in March. I’ve watched and read the news reports of lay offs in our community and the closures of some local businesses. Friends have lost their jobs, others are taking jobs they would never consider just because it’s preferable to unemployment. I don’t think it’s too pessimistic to think that given the current economic climate across the country that our county will continue to feel the economic pinch for some months to come, hopefully not years. I call it the reality of living in New York State and Western New York.
Despite this, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I think we have people here who have figured “it” out. “It” being that magical formula that can lead to a vibrant downtown, successful businesses, and less brain drain. “It” is that something that asks someone who has done it the same way, over and over, to change. And change is a bitch. It’s that whole slow-cooker notion again. We’ve got what we need. We just need to turn up the heat a little more and see what we can make out of this city and this county.