An Open Letter to Citizens of Opp, Alabama
You know that feeling you get when you visit a beautiful location or charming little town? That sensation that feels like you’re being hugged just by walking down the tree lined streets or stepping into that quaint coffee shop that smells of freshly ground beans and croissants and heaven? When a place is alive, when it is filled with beauty and culture and wonder and people, doesn’t it spark something inside of you? Doesn’t it make you want to soak it all in, bottle it up, and take it home with you? Because there is no other place like that place. No other town quite like there, with its unique combination of people, shops, restaurants, landscape, history, and culture.
We visit places, shop in places that make us feel something. We go where we feel inspired, energized, in awe. There are certain stores that I like to go in simply because of the way they make me feel; whether is it the music playing through the speakers, the lighting and layout, the smells, those that work there, or the beauty of the space. Those are the things that draw me back in again and again.
When I look at my hometown of Opp, Alabama, I see the potential for all the feels I want to feel, for all the beauty and inspiration I want to see, but it’s just not there yet. It’s like that gorgeous old house that has layers of paint that are chipping and bad linoleum covering up hardwood floors. Peel back the layers and you unearth the beauty that has been there all along. It can happen, it is just hard work.
Our city slogan was dubbed, “The City of Opportunity.” I’ve heard many people scoff at that. I’ve heard the sarcastic comments, the jabs at the irony of a town that claims opportunity, yet businesses have closed, buildings in our gorgeous downtown district sit empty, and precious people have moved away. NAFTA legislation years ago sent many of our key businesses, cotton mills and sewing factories, overseas. We lost jobs, we lost people who lost jobs. We lost a lot. But, by definition, opportunity is “a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.” or, “a good chance for advancement or progress.” Isn’t that still true of Opp today according to the very definition of the word? Opportunity still knocks.
Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” I’m not going to sugar coat the obvious. To get Opp to where a lot of us envision it to be, it is going to be hard work. And it may not look like the “way we’ve always done things.” It will take a shift in our culture, even.
It won’t be the first time in Opp’s history that its industry and identity changed. Since it’s inception, Opp has seen many industries, including timber, naval stores, textiles, and a railroad. Those are all of a bygone era now. Things shifted at some point for each of these industries, and it’s time for a shift again.
"Success is where preparation and opportunity meet." Bobby Usner
I’m not sure how the puzzle pieces will all come together to bring life back to our little town. It’s overwhelming to think of all the things that need to be done, of all that has to happen for change to come. I do know, however, that if we all catch the vision and work together, this can happen! Revitalization is possible. Economic turnaround is possible, but preparation is key. We must be prepared to take the steps necessary when opportunity arrives.
See my hometown through my eyes. I see beauty. I see potential. I see gorgeous old chippy brick and mortar buildings just waiting for someone to shine them up again. I see character and uniqueness in these old buildings that could be embraced and enhanced and preserved. I can see a thriving downtown area with unique stores and trendy restaurants in these old buildings, full of life and connections and relationships built around meals and cups of coffee. I also see a lot of those buildings sitting empty. How do we facilitate a way for the creatives and dreamers, the entrepreneurs of our small town to stay and invest in our community and have a support system while doing so?
"Victory comes from finding opportunities in problems." Sun Tzu
Just like any other small town, there are obstacles and problems we will have to address. If we look at those issues through a positive lens, we can re-frame them into opportunities for growth and progress, for a chance to raise the bar.
There is so much potential here! Can’t you just see it? Yes, over the past couple of decades, things have been less than ideal. Businesses have closed, people have moved away. But the potential we possess for building a truly unique downtown experience, for job creation and having a place in which businesses can truly thrive is limited only by our lack of belief, action, imagination, patronage.
And let me assure you that there are lots of people working behind the scenes trying to get some stuff done, to make our town better. There are business owners, and Chamber Board members, and city officials and fellow citizens who share this vision and are taking action. But things take time, there’s always the proverbial red tape, and a lack of funds that can keep things from moving as quickly as or how we’d like.
The following photos are from Opp’s historic downtown district.
But, I’d like to challenge you. Will you:
1. Pray for our town. Pray for our leaders, for our businesses to thrive. For entrepreneurs to rise up and see the potential to open businesses here. For more dreamers and visionaries and doers to step up and lead. For red tape to fall away. For 2019 be a year that we can collectively accomplish some of these things. If owning a business or sitting on the Chamber board or city council isn’t your thing, you can still pray.
2. Be a patron to our businesses. I know that we can’t find everything we need here. But we can try to purchase what we can find here from our business owners. Their livelihoods really do depend on our patronage and they might even do a little happy dance when you become a customer. #shoplocal
3. Instead of focusing on the negative here, focus on what we have going for us (like a gorgeous state park, a college, close proximity to Gulf Coast, close-knit community, ) and ask yourself what you can do to help out. Volunteer for city events. Get involved with a civic organization or a church outreach.
4.Post your photos of Opp, Alabama on social media by using the hashtag #oppismyhometown
Great things are coming! What role will you play in our town’s revitalization?
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