Archived Story

Subtle differences add up to have huge impact

Published 8:32am Thursday, May 22, 2014

After years of traveling and having lived in several states, it has always been interesting to me how communities in different parts of the country are culturally unique, varying in some very important — and maybe some trivial but still personally impactful — ways.

I really didn’t think there would that many differences, culturally and socially, in moving here from about eight hours south in eastern Kentucky and southern Ohio.

I’m finding out that isn’t exactly true. The “big picture” looks the same but there are lots of subtle differences that add up to change the tapestry of life a bit.

One that certainly hit home for me personally is the fact that sweet ice tea is no longer a staple, instead a rare treasure difficult to find in sit-down restaurants. I once wrote a column about what I called the “Great Sweet Tea Divide.” I’ve apparently moved north of that imaginary line now.

Another cultural difference is that video stores appear to be alive and well here in southwest Michigan and northern Indiana. Family Video has a location in almost every town and there are a few independent stores as well.

The community that I moved from had bid a fond farewell to video stores several years ago. The mom-and-pop businesses had long since faded into memory. When the national chains such as Blockbuster and Movie Gallery starting closing their doors I thought this cultural icon had gone the way of the Dodo bird.

As a child growing up in the 1980s, I remember trips to the video store to find new release were a real treat and adventure, offering portals into new worlds to which there was really no other access. Often the experience of the visit was as much fun as watching the movie itself.

Another huge distinction is that this entire region embraces wineries, breweries and festivals as an important part of the economy and draw for tourism. These businesses are integral parts of the culture and communities here.

Drawing straight from recent headlines, the Niles City Council just approved the Chamber of Commerce’s plan to host a craft brew and wine fest within the city. This is a polar opposite of the community I grew up in that once nixed a music festival headlined by legendary bluesman B.B. King simply because alcohol was going to be sold.

The chambers of commerce themselves bring up another key difference. Virtually every community here has its own chamber, all of which are doing positive things to impact the city or town they serve. I do not have space list all the various initiatives here but they range from sponsoring community festivals to offering business education to providing networking opportunities to leading the way on economic development partnerships.

It is easy to take this for granted as something these organizations are supposed to do and that happens everywhere. However, and I say this from experience, that is far from the case.

Oftentimes, chambers of commerce get mired in politics, favoritism and just don’t really do anything that actually benefits its business membership or the community.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth here.

So I hope long-time residents of Michiana don’t take the region for granted and take the time to appreciate these little things that add up to make all the difference in the world.


Michael Caldwell is the publisher of Leader Publications LLC. He can be reached at (269) 687-7700 or by email at

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