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Jan. 18, 2007

Like many others, I have been excitedly watching construction of the new shopping center west of town. Growing up in St. Louis, I became used to having a wide selection of commercial enterprises to patronize; consequently, after moving to Sedalia more than fifteen years ago, I spent much time (too much time) lamenting all the things Sedalia didnít have: a variety of fine restaurants, large department stores, funky used bookstores, and multiple performing arts venues.

Ironically, I find lately-- now that we are getting more chain stores--that I feel ambivalent about the changes occurring here, and all across America.

This summer our family took a road trip to spend a week at the beach in South Carolina. Our trip was smooth and uneventful, except for the usual sibling squabbles, but I was unprepared for the vast change in Americaís landscape. I guess itís been a long time since Iíve taken a road trip of this magnitude, 17 hours and 1,100 miles. Obviously, this is not the kind of trip you take when youíve got toddlers in tow!

As we rolled into every town of any size I was dismayed to see that almost every shopping center looked exactly the same, with similar ďbig boxĒ stores: Barnes and Noble, Old Navy, Marshalls, Pier One, Target, Paneras, Starbucks Coffee, etc.

On the one hand, it made being in a strange town somewhat more comfortable. We knew we could find something if we needed it, and were even able to do a lot of our back to school shopping while en route to the beach. And yes, I had plenty of Starbuckís lattes to keep me awake while driving.

On the other hand, I found the shopping experience to be a little too comfortable! We ended up having the exact same shopping experience we could have had in Kansas City, St. Louis or even Columbia, with a little southern twang thrown in.

ďSo, whatís the point of all this travel?Ē I thought. After all, the whole purpose of leaving home is to broaden your horizons and get out of your comfort zone. Thatís pretty hard to do today in much of America.

On my rather frequent trips to St. Louis to visit doctors or family members, I have begun to feel assaulted by the continuous encroachment of the ďbig boxesĒ on the countryside, with the accompanying insult of added traffic, noise and signage. Every trip, I notice with increasing dismay that the urban sprawl continues to creep westward. Eventually Kansas City and St. Louis may be linked by a continuous line of huge retailers all vying for our hard earned dollars.

So instead of focusing on what Sedalia doesnít have these days, Iím counting my blessings. At the end of my trips, I now look forward to coming home to our sleepy town, where you can easily travel the streets without traffic at any time of day or night, and where we still have wide open spaces to enjoy.

And I ím actually glad that my three daughters canít engage in shopping as a recreational sport because we donít have the huge malls available here. When my city sisters complain about their teens dragging them all over to find a coat or a swimming suit, I simply smile.

At my house my girls know, either you find one during the few hours we spend at the mall, or you find it online. Even paying extra for shipping doesnít diminish the pleasure I feel at skipping all those exhausting and boring hours at the mall, and it still costs me less than all the frivolous, impetuous purchases we get lured into making while browsing.

Sure, I enjoyed shopping when I was younger, but now that Iím buying clothing, personal items, groceries and household stuff for the entire family, Iíve had enough! Frankly, I donít care if I ever see the inside of another mall ó except, of course, for the bookstores.

The transition has taken a long time, but I guess Iím finally through whining and complaining about small town living. I guess Iíve become a country girl, through and through.

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