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Unintentional localism

I used to be a national and international news junkie. I would read, listen and watch the news any chance I got.

It was wonderful feeling like I knew what was going on in the world. The reality, honestly, was that I constantly felt anxious about all of it. I had absolutely no control over any of it, other than my ability to write an elected official or exercise my right to vote.

Things changed when I opened my business, The Vault Market, in town with my business partner, Amanda Cleary. Suddenly, I had no time to pay attention to the news.

There would be weeks go by when I simply didn’t get the opportunity to turn on the radio for news, watch the news or read any of it. We were working, sometimes 16-hour days, seven days a week, in the first six months, as well as volunteering large chunks of our time towards community involvement.

Something magical happened though in the process of this hard working time lapse. I quit being anxious about things I couldn’t change, because I started seeing what my local focus could change. I am now seeing first hand how my time spent in my community working hard to build our local economy is paying off instead of worrying about things happening in other parts of the country fully out of my control.

Each day, I make real world connections with the general public coming into our shop. I get to have meaningful conversations about people’s hopes and dreams for Ironton and our area. When I first started asking people what they wanted to see happen in our town, I would get answers like, “Fix the pot holes.”  As the months have passed on, pothole repair dreams are becoming less frequent and more vivid dreams of art, music and a thriving cultural downtown are more often part of the discussion. It is almost like no one has ever given those of us from Ironton permission to dream about wanting more out of the space we call home.

Amanda and I decided one way we could help make our downtown start to match our dream of where we want to live was to make the outside area, that we see daily from our shop windows, look and feel more welcoming. Through a collaborative effort between Mitzi Sinnot, Tyler Virgin, the Ohio Arts Council, Collins Career Technical Center students and instructors and everyday citizens, an art project that will do just that is underway. Soon in the future there will be artistic, fun bike racks and colorful pedestrian crosswalks where Third and Center streets intersect.

Everything about the project, including the creation of it to the funding, has humbled us. The beginning collaboration with Mitzi Sinnot, of All Here Together Productions, was wonderful. She is a boundless source of creative energy. Tyler Virgin, a U.S. veteran and owner of Virgin Consulting, believed in us enough to offer his financial advice for our business. He also helped create the non-profit called Third and Center for the three of us in order to receive the project grant money and allow us room for future community collaborations.  Working with the instructors and students at Collins for the bike racks and art graphics showed us that there is so much talent for the future of our region if we are just willing to tap into it.

Perhaps the must humbling collaboration came from approximately 70 everyday citizens from the region and other places that made a choice to turn their focus local. In less than 14 hours after announcing the bike rack project on social media, these people contributed over $3,000 to make this work possible. They were not big donors, but truly just average citizens believing in the future of our city.

This is what building a community at the grassroots level is all about. All of the people involved in making this project bloom are taking a leap of faith for bettering our city.

So, now, when conversations around me turn to national politics, I like to remind myself and others that our energy can be multiplied when focused locally for a community cause.

Ask yourself, family and friends what the downtown looks and feels like where you want to spend your free time. Then challenge yourself to how each one of you can contribute to making that dream a reality.

In the coming months, let’s join hands and hearts to positively build the strong, resilient community we love and are proud to call our hometown.

Abby Keuhne is the co-owner of The Valult Market in Ironton. She can be reached at abby@thevaultmarket.com.