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What is wrong with Salado?

COMMENTARY

Are the best days of Salado behind us or before us?

After 46 years, the Salado Art Fair has been canceled, less than two months before the date of the show in late October.

The same week, the Public Arts League of Salado (PALS) canceled its fund raiser, A Taste of Salado, planned to take place at the Sculpture Garden the same time that the Cattlemen’s Ball is held at Tenroc Ranch.

Monthly, the state Comptroller releases news that sales tax revenues are declining for the Village of Salado, while other communities in Bell County and Central Texas see increases in their sales tax revenues.

Within a few weeks of each other, Adelea’s on Main St., a popular restaurant in Salado, and Horsefeathers, a very popular destination store in Salado, are shuttered with little or no warning.

Earlier this year, it appeared as if Mill Creek Golf Club might close its doors.

While there are individual, sometimes personal, explanations for most of these occurrences, their coincidence points to unspoken -- unspeakable -- questions.

What is happening to Salado? Are the best days of Salado behind, or before us? Why is this happening? Has Salado done something wrong? How can we fix it?

And then, quickly on the heels of that comes the blame game. 

It’s the Chamber’s fault!

No, it’s the aldermen’s fault! The Mayor, he’s to blame for this mess!

It’s all TxDOT’s fault! If they would just finish the @#$% highway!

It’s the feds! And the salamanders (or lack thereof)!

Maybe, just maybe, if we could get our hands on all that money that the Library has, things would be great in Salado once again. 

Truth is, all of these have some seed of truth to them, which makes them more pervasive than they deserve to be. Salado is less than what it once was because of local issues.

However, a great deal of the financial blues for the Village have fundamental causes about which Salado itself can do absolutely nothing.

First, regardless of the heights the stock market has reached, Main Street has not felt the recovery that Wall Street has felt. Every single day, everyday people make tough decisions about what to do with their money. 

Instead of taking a weekend trip to get away from the kids and work, families are staying home in droves. How many of us heard of the word “stay-cation” before the Great Recession? That word, and its connotation indicate in some way why the streets of Salado seem somewhat empty in recent months and years.

Another cause is cultural as much as economic. When Sir Wigglesworth sat at the corner of Main Street and Rock Creek Dr. and attracted droves of shoppers, Amazon was a river in South America. The shopper has changed and the way he or she shops has changed as well.

The traveler has changed as well in the past two decades. Especially here in Texas where small town communities have rallied around their town squares, their narrow streets, their funky little bits of history as a drawing card.

Culinary, cultural, historical, sports, entertainment and activity tourism have replaced shopping weekends, especially for the generation of families now raising children.

As experts from the Texas Travel and Tourism Industry (TTIA) told a large gathering of travel industry professionals at the Stagecoach Inn in a day long conference three years ago, “People do not travel to a destination to shop. They travel to do something. They travel for art, for history, to watch their kids play, to play themselves. When they are done with that activity, then they visit the shops and restaurants and galleries.”

Take a look around Salado. Is there much to do here? 

Well, you could go jump in a lake. Literally. We have two of the cleanest lakes in Texas within a short drive, both of which offer water sports and fishing to enthusiasts.

You could jump out of a perfectly good plane. Every weekend, dozens of folks do just that. But this is nowhere reflected in Village advertising and promotion.

At the corner of Holland Rd. and I-35 sits one of the premier roping arenas in the state, if not the nation. Gentlemen and gentlewomen ropers haul behind their $60,000 trucks, $100,000+ trailers and typically $25,000 or more on the hoof. For a weekend hobby! And yet the community treats Wildfire Ranch Arena as something other than a potential mine of opportunity (gold).

Salado ranches offer whitetail, turkey and exotic hunting, but again this is absent from our central marketing of the community.

Every single weekend, Salado is home to at least one wedding, if not half a dozen. If more marketing were spent in this niche, how far would those ripples extend?

And then there’s golf, one of the fronts where the news is actually getting much better with the new ownership of Mill Creek Country Club. Because of the committed efforts of two handfuls of individuals, Salado may soon reap the benefits of having one of the most beautiful golf courses in the state returned to its former beauty.

However, before this private group stepped in to prevent the possible if not probable closing of the course, there were grumblings about whether the Village should make any kind of financial commitment or loans of any sort to this project.

Have you had a glass of Texas wine in Salado lately? You’ve got three terrific choices, depending upon your palate, to explore. 

And just take a look up above your head. Right there in that tree above the old historic walking bridge (which by the way is one of the very few lenticular bridges left in the state and has a great history in and of itself). Right there in that branch is a tree elf sawing away at it, placed in the middle of the night by Troy Kelley.

Elsewhere you will find his mermaid, his big cat, his little boy. 

Elsewhere, you will find giant blocks of limestone carved into works of art. Those unique and beautiful carvings dot our landscape.

On the south end of town is Wells Gallery, owned by Ronnie Wells who has become a wildlife sculpture of the nation, if not world, renown.

Tucked away in a hot metal building is a working artist where you can actually watch the beautiful glass vessels being made by hand by Gail Allard. Sometimes -- like right now! -- you can reserve a time to blow your own glass ornaments for Christmas.

Jim Benton has been crafting gold jewelry for three decades in Salado. His gallery sits at the corner of Main and Royal. Across the street is a gallery dedicated to the works of the late Thomas Kinkade.

A little further north is Michael Pritchett, whose Sirril Gallery lives up to its name. His paintings evoke many emotions, which is what art is intended to do.

Further north is Prellop Gallery where Larry Prellop paints beautiful land and seascapes. Who knew we had a Keep Texas Beautiful artist in our town?

Soon, there will be another collection of artists to be shown in the old Tyler House, which is undergoing renovations after sitting empty for about five years.

Keep walking north and discover photographic art by Rusty Schramm in the newly opened 21 Main Street.

Across the street are Mud Pies, where Titia has hardly spent a day without getting her hands dirty making vessels. Kiki’s features beautiful handmade jewelry of Creta  Ferrin. 

And there on the grounds of The Range at the Barton House is Aaron Gist’s The Lovers, a curve of steel that evokes the Biblical passage of two becoming one.

And the stuff of nightmares... the Troll and Billy Goat Gruff speak of the fairy tales that keep little ones awake at night. 

Just north of the walking bridge, a work of art in and of itself, is Griffith Fine Art. Kay Griffith has become so well-known as an abstract artist that she has been a featured artist in New York City galleries and at a worldwide show of artists in Las Vegas. She paints right there in her gallery.

And the painter of Delight, B. Herd with his signature red cardinal dotting his gorgeously detailed Texas landscapes that -- when you look at the love in each stroke and touch -- make you love being a Texan that much more. Here is the impact of B. Herd: my brother has not lived in Texas for more than three decades, but he has collected Herd’s bluebonnet paintings for his house “up North” in Pennsylvania and they serve as a touching reminder to him of the state he still loves a lifetime after having left home.

Keep going, you’re not done yet. There at the Library is a collection of art both inside and out that should be a destination in and of itself.

And tucked away off of Main Street is Salado’s Sculpture Garden, the cooperative effort of PALS and Keep Salado Beautiful. There you will find more than a dozen works of art tucked away in a beautifully wooded area.

It is unfortunate that the Salado Art Fair was canceled. Some say it was canceled because the Village turned down a request to sell alcohol in Pace Park, but this is not true. It was canceled because it was allowed to wither. Not just in the past few years, but over decades it was allowed to sit on the vine without much care or tending by the community or by the Chamber.

The good news is this: Salado is itself an art show, every day and every weekend. 

And so much more than that. Every Saturday night you can find live music in half a dozen places. 

Yet, there are those who screamed to the rooftops about that very thing: music. Live music at The Outback has been one of the biggest controversies to sweep Salado in years. This really made us look like the imaginary small town in Footloose. You know, the town where dancing was illegal. 

And to be honest, that fight is not over yet. John Jennings, who lives on Salado Creek Rd. near Johnny’s Outback, has called for the ouster of Mayor Danney McCort. He has gone so far as to accuse Mayor McCort of “corruption” and “illegal acts.” In his comments submitted for the record to the Board of Aldermen recently, Jennings said that McCort had worked with the owners of Johnny’s and The Shed to “cheat” the village out of money through building permit fees.

These comments made on September 19 are untrue. More than that, they are misleading and besmirch the reputations of all the parties involved.

Those comments are allowed to stand, without being refuted because the board of aldermen cannot reply to statements made under Public Comment and because the business owners involved were not given equal time.

We refute those comments as being untrue. The owners of The Shed had proper permits in place, including Bell County Health Department licensing which Jennings insinuated was not done. 

The businesses that Jennings accuses as being part of some nefarious corruption have been longtime supporters of this community in ways that their accuser has not.

One little example (when there are many more): instead of cheating the Village of income, when Larry and Elaine Wolfe owned Fairway Golf Carts they volunteered to be brought into the Village limits so that every time a golf cart was sold the Village would reap sales taxes from it.

Furthermore, the addition of Johnny’s Outback has brought in far more tax dollars to the Village than taxes paid by the surrounding homeowners. Not just from the dozen or so concerts held there (which end at 11 p.m.), but from reunions and othering gatherings. 

We need more of this.

Not less.

The Village government needs to make it easier for businesses to develop in Salado, not harder.

When businesses like The Shed and Johnny’s thrive, all of us do a little better. Yet, they have faced harassment by some of the residents who have benefited financially from their very being.

What is that benefit? For example, the Fleischers paid just over $200 this year in city property taxes for our home. In Belton, that would be more than $1,200. 

The Village should find ways of celebrating these individuals who bring art and music and life to Salado, not punishing them and not slandering them.

Otherwise, they, too, may make the choice of not being here. 

And what will we have then?