DCF 1.0

The discussion of Indiana, RFRA, and anti-discrimination law and mandatory provision law (think contraception) brings up an argument I often hear: You might be able to let urban locations discriminate, but in more rural parts, you might run in to situations where they are the only X in town and the next one is two hours away!

This… is the case a lot less frequently than you think. And applies to remarkably few people. Sufficiently few that, on its own, it’s not really a compelling argument for national or even statewide policy.

I have lived and spent time in some pretty rural places. One of the things that surprised me is that even in pretty small towns, there are often more than one of just about everything. Callie, Arapaho, has between 4,000 and 5,000 people in it. If we take the county, and even include the neighboring county, you’re still in the very low five digits with a population density of between 1 and 2 people per square mile. Callie has four auto repair shops three pharmacies, three auto mechanics, two coffee shops (more than two, really), two medical clinics, two barber shops, two veterinarians, and two grocery stores, and two towing services. There were ones of some things, and there were none of a lot more.

This is not to say that there aren’t any one-pharmacy towns. But they’re hard to find. First of all, because the cut-off to being able to support two pharmacies seems to be somewhere in the four digits, that includes a whole lot of people we consider to be Rural Americans. Even relatively poor counties often have more than one, or go back and forth between one and two indicating a danger in taking the community for granted.

I blame television.

In the Andy Griffith show, Mayberry had one of just about everything. There seemed to be one of a lot of things in Twin Peaks, too (which technically had 50,000, but only because the studio made them change it from 5,000… trust me, it was a 5,000 town). But that’s a casting decision. Keeps things simple.

Now, there is the phenomenon of places in small towns closing. So a county that has two may go down to one. But… a town with only one may go down to none.

The towns to the east, in the neighboring county, was a single-pharmacy town. But it closed, right about the time that the third pharmacy in Callie opened up. Which is often how it goes. Even within small towns, there is a degree of consolidation. A place in some outlying small town goes out of business in favor of something in the county seat. That sort of thing.

Which brings me to the next thing, which is that as daunting “driving 60 miles to the next-nearest [X] seems”… it’s also a fact of life when you live in the middle of nowhere. My wife and I would drive five hours to get to the airport. To some extent, that’s part of the decision you make when you live in rural America. It would definitely suck if the only pharmacy in town didn’t do contraception, but others live in towns without a single pharmacy. More do, I suspect, though for them “the nearest pharmacy” is likely to be located next to another pharmacy or two. And a store where you need to run errands anyway.

In the case of contraception, I would add, even in some rinky-dink conservative town, a pharmacy that refused to sell one of the most commonly prescribed drugs on the market would have serious problems. If you’re operating out in the middle of nowhere, I’m not sure how much business you can afford to turn away. especially when you’re not just turning away the business for those particular drugs, but often the families of people who need it because they’ll just pick up their other prescriptions when they go to the county seat or the next county’s county seat.

It is trickier with anti-discrimination legislation, but the scenarios I see people concoct sometimes contradict my experience. The things I would most worry about being gay or a minority in ruralia isn’t that “the only barbershop in town won’t cut my hair” but “some employers won’tl hire me and I’m having trouble getting a lease.” My concern for the latter (two) is why I am sympathetic to anti-discrimination legislation, though it has less to do with places where there is the only X in town, and more to do with cultural contagion that spreads to some larger places to, as well as with the fact that job markets and housing markets can be awfully tight – even in larger towns and cities – and a single rejection can have significant consequences.

Category: Market, Statehouse

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19 Responses to But What About BFE?

  1. fillyjonk says:

    Isn’t there already anti-discrimination legislation for housing? People can’t refuse to rent to someone who is Black or a single woman….and I think that extends to gay people as well. And yeah, yeah, I get there can be discrimination that can’t be proven to be such, but.

    I live in a small town. Not quite BFE but you can see BFE from my house. (Not literally). I’m also a single, never-married woman over 25, which is a bit of an oddity in this part of the world. It can make dealings with things like old-boys-network attorneys and such a challenge. (The guy who was involved when I bought my house gave off a distinct vibe of “I don’t understand why you’re not waiting until you get married to own property”)

    I dunno. I know a few gay people, I know a married gay couple, though if they had a reception with cake I wasn’t invited, so I don’t know if they found a baker. There seems to be a network of ‘friendly’ (or more likely, “We don’t really care because we need the money”) businesses even in fairly small areas. Or people are, as you said, willing to drive. (I have to drive an hour’s round trip for a non-Walmart large supermarket)

    This is, I think, going to be a challenge facing our culture in the coming years: dealing with incompatible and increasingly Balkanized elements of our culture.

    • trumwill says:

      Thanks for reminding me of the image I wanted to include with this post!

      There are ant-discrimination laws, though whether they apply to sexual orientation or not depends on the state. When I was in Deseret, the legal counsel was fired when it was discovered that he was gay. At the time, there were no laws on the books preventing that.

  2. Oscar Gordon says:

    This jives with my experience growing up in rural WI. Places are lousy with bars & churches, but pharmacies & grocery stores, not so much? There is no bakery, or photography studio, rather there is the guy who takes pics, and the lady who makes cakes, neither of whom could be considered a public accommodation because they have no storefront, don’t take walk-ins, and work by appointment only because they have jobs, or large families, or farms to care for.

  3. Chris says:

    When I was a kid, the town I grew up in wasn’t much bigger than Callie, and it really did have one of everything until about the mid-80s. I wonder if some people just remember a time when that’s the way things often were. And I wonder if it’s different now because it’s just much cheaper to open, stock, and otherwise operate many small businesses (maybe transportation, roads, logistics, and cheaper manufacturing?).

  4. fillyjonk says:

    Yeah, we don’t have a bakery unless you count the one in wal-mart.

    We HAD a bakery but apparently not enough people bought cakes (and they didn’t sell bread; I went in and asked if they made bread and they said no) so they closed.

    We also don’t have a bookstore other than a paperback exchange and one small shelf of trade books ‘n’ bestsellers in the campus bookstore. (I use Amazon a lot. I know some people hate Amazon but I don’t think I could live here without it.)

  5. Peter says:

    And then there are the businesses which exist in numbers seemingly far too large for the market to support. Around me, these include nail salons, pizza parlors, take-out Chinese restaurants, and bagel shops. Drive a mile down a commercial roadway and you’re likely to pass five of each.

    • I suspect that the economics of these places works when food prices are high and there’s a population willing to support it, and along with the nail salons, you have immigrants willing to work for low wages.

    • trumwill says:

      Some of it is a question of service areas. A lot of the time you’re going to run in to a lot of nail salons in the Asian part of town, but they serve people from miles away. It’s just that a lot of people converge on the same neighborhood for the particular service.

      • But in this case, we’re not talking about an “Asian part of town”. Nearly every mini-mall on Long Island has the same combo of Chinese restaurant, bagel place, nail place, and pizzeria. Peter may live in a more exurban part of Long Island, but the same trends are common where I live as well. Hell, you’ll see three of the same set of four stores within a mile of each other in a few limited cases around here.

  6. Peter says:

    Speaking of immigrant labor, a couple of months ago a big national corporation bought a local producer of lawn and garden products with the plan to add a couple of production lines. Plans hit a temporary snag, however, when HR people from Big National Corporation went to transfer the local company’s workers to the new payroll system and found that out of 45 or 50 of them, only five were legally authorized to work in the US.

  7. Michael Cain says:

    If you’re operating out in the middle of nowhere, I’m not sure how much business you can afford to turn away. especially when you’re not just turning away the business for those particular drugs, but often the families of people who need it…

    Yeah, in the big picture I’m much more concerned about business shrinking to the point the firms disappear. Rural is different in different areas and my own interests are in the Great Plains, where the 80-year trend of declining population continues unabated. When the old guy who owns the pharmacy retires, there’s less chance that someone younger can afford to take over. It’s a slow-motion problem, but it’s real.

    • trumwill says:

      I’d expect it mostly to be a matter of “service” areas growing and growing. I mention pharmacies in the County Seat… becoming pharmacies in the Three County Area. Or an increase in mail order and the liberalization of applicable laws…

      • Oscar Gordon says:

        Mail order has, in a lot of ways, made many of these issues moot.

        Amazon, Social Justice Champion!

  8. Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

    While I have used the expressions West BF and East BF, I never heard of BFE.

    So, being a nerd, I looked it up on the internet. What does Egypt have to do with it?

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