Choice is More Than Just Green Beans

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Having a large numbers of stores doesn’t mean a rural area has much choice — unless you want a hamburger or your hair done.

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one federal study of rural consumer markets in 2000, any area with over 40 types of businesses is considered “well served.” By that measure, Overton is slightly better than “well served.” However, of the 30 categories of services, 16 are represented by a single business. That means that 53% of all businesses have no local competition. The categories with the largest varieties of business are beauty shops (10.5%) and restaurants (8.7%). In terms of access and choice, Overton is a great place to get a hamburger and a hair cut, but what about other services?
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Our federal researchers (Paul Frenzen and Tim Parker) identified two tiers of services in rural markets nationwide. The first tier — banks, grocery stores, and eating and drinking places — were found in every rural market. The second tier — gas stations, drug stores, doctor’s offices, hospitals, hardware stores, florists and beauty shops — were found in 90% of all rural markets. Overton stacks up pretty well against these findings. It has two banks, one grocery store, and five restaurants. It also boasts three gas stations, one drug store, two doctor’s offices, a hardware store, a florist, and six beauty shops. 

While this is none too shabby, looking only at basic services, the picture starts to change. I defined basic services as banks, medical services, housing, food and fuel. Fifteen providers offer these services in Overton (approximately 25% of all businesses) and of these, five (33%) have no competition, including food and the majority of medical services. 

At this point, I have to seriously disagree with Frenzen and Parker. When you look at the type and number of basic services, Overton is not well served. Sure, consumers can commute to other markets, but this becomes more problematic as people grow older. And travel to more distant markets raises the overall cost of living for those of us who live in the rural areas. 

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