Life Lessons From Bedford Falls, Arizona

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About this time every year, we end up, almost against our wills, watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” ... again.

We never plan it — having seen it more times than Obama’s been asked for a cabinet appointment. But it always sucks us in as we go merrily channel surfing beneath the holly-decked halls. So we always end up watching to the end, invariably tearing up as all George Baily’s friends and neighbors and customers come crowding around the tree with their crumpled dollar bills in hand.

No time for that this year. Too busy listening to all the grim news and searching the desk drawers to figure out where the other half of the 401K got off to.

Lord, what a Christmas.

Look at those sales tax figures — down 42 percent in Payson in October compared to the same month a year ago. Granted, that just sets us back to where we were in 2004 — which was a darn good year by historical standards. And further granted that Rim Country still suffers from only a tiny fraction of the foreclosures and forced home sales that have afflicted the Valley. Locally, about 2.5 percent of homes for sale are in foreclosure — about one-tenth the percentage as down in the Valley.

And on just the projection of a continuing decline in sales, the town has started laying people off, canceling park programs and imposing hiring freezes.

So it’s kind of scary this year.

It’s all so upsetting, can’t hardly get through our errands. Seems like every store we go into, we end up in a conversation about how things are going. The folks at the Fireside said they’re actually doing all right — since cold weather makes folks want hot coffee, a fireplace and some place to talk. Oddly enough, the folks at the ice cream store say they’re hanging in there — since taking the family out for ice cream remains an affordable indulgence. Of course, the Wednesday night karaoke crowd at Famous Sam’s don’t seem worried about nothing — but then, heck, they sing karaoke. Seems like half the time we start out talking to the shop owner and two other people we know wander over and chime in.

Truth be told, winter’s kind of nice, actually. Just the locals — the folks you bump into every time you turn around.

Kind of like Bedford Falls, come to think of it.

So why do we keep watching that movie? And would it move us to tears if the town hadn’t fallen on hard times — when crumpled dollar bills offered up by neighbors and customers really mean something?

We face our own such moment here in Rim Country for the next few months — as your friends and neighbors wonder whether they’ll make it through the long weeks without tourists. Even in a normal year, local businesses come to rely on local residents to get through the winter — this year, the patronage of year-rounders may determine whether our streets are pock-marked with more vacant storefronts by summer.

You know these people — they are the reason this town is such a treasure. They donate presents to the cops to give to kids, they show up at the Vietnam Wall Memorial, they volunteer down at the Senior Center and sit with people down at Hospice and keep the Time Out Shelter in business and go to the school plays and cheer the Longhorns and serve free turkey dinners to neighbors having a tough time and win our Good Guy award every day. They constitute the beloved community — the best part about living in Rim Country.

So, now they need help getting through the winter — and all you have to do is to find some place in town to buy whatever it is you need, instead of driving to the Valley to shop for a deal that will save you half what you just spent on gas. All your neighbors in the beloved community need for you to do is to act on the chamber of commerce’s plea: “Be loyal, buy local.”

Think of it as your chance to crowd around George Baily’s tree, with a crumpled dollar bill.

It is, after all, a wonderful town.

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