Small Midwestern towns are dying, there’s no denying. Check out the town squares of most any small town and you’ll see empty store fronts, “For Sale” and “For Rent” signs, and barren windows looking out, like sad puppy-dog eyes. Highway bypasses, the decline of the rural farm population, and general movement toward larger metropolitan areas are the usual causes. The internet was supposed to cure all that, enabling people to work (and buy) from their homes. But the farm-to-city march is still underway, like flood waters roaring through bottom land. It’s called “shifting demographics.” People are herd animals. They flock together for safety, procreation and better access to the essentials of life, including entertainment and stimulation.
This shift can be a death knell, or opportunity, depending on entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic. Four years ago, Chuck McClenning, of Mt. Pleasant, a retired machinist, quietly rented a downtown storefront in New London, and set up his craft business. His shop is in the back. Old fashioned word-of-mouth took over. Chuck was soon enjoying a brisk walk-in business and, after installing a very professional (and fun) website, a booming retail and wholesale business. With sparkling eyes and a stylish handlebar mustache, he proudly shows off his crafts for Christmas, Halloween, Easter, wedding parties, baby showers, and many more special occasions.
His business is called, “The Chasmacian Crafter.” “Chas” is for his name, Charles or Chuck; “Mac” is for the “Mc” in his name; and the characters he builds are from the town of Chasmac, which makes them “Chasmacian.” Many people, including Ginnie and I, pronounce the name like, “Maceian.” That’s okay with Chuck, he goes with the flow. His website is www.thechasmaciancrafter.com/store. Many of his crafts are listed on ETSY.com/thechasmaciancrafter.
He designs and builds a character, like a snowman, writes a story befitting of the character, then builds a mold and mass produces it, or farms it out. His handmade nightlights (with fragrance) are “must haves.”
Business is booming. In January, Chuck will fly to Atlanta to meet with buyers for a whole new product line. When buyers and designers like Chuck get together, watch out!
Of course Christmas is a big season, but Halloween is actually Chuck’s largest. “Cute,” “Precious,” and “Adorable” are popular adjectives describing his, “Off the Beaten Path Designs,” by “Some guy from New London.” His Angels have a penny embedded in the bottom. It means someone from heaven is trying to get a hold of you.
There may be a ghost, too, in Chuck’s shop. One day when he was unlocking the front door, there was a man stooped over and looking at Chuck’s witches. Chuck can tell you the shirt and jeans the man was wearing. And then the man disappeared. Poof! A crow that had been placed high on a shelf, fell and hit the floor. A patriotic tree was missing. Chuck said out loud, “Okay, if there’s someone here, let me know.” Another object fell off a shelf. Chuck has cameras in the shop. On his phone there will be messages, “Motion detected.”
It’s refreshing to know that these little towns, with vacant buildings and disparaging demeanor, can reinvent themselves and thrive once again. All it takes is innovation, hard work, and the All-American, give-it-a-try, spirit.
Open the door to Chuck’s shop, a little bell tingles. What a jingle of creativity!
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-271-0526, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com