By Ron VandenBoom
Kathy Pimley, owner of the Joplin Mart, has noticed a decline in the number of people who pass through the door.
"We're shrinking really fast and I can already feel it here," she said.
The Joplin Mart sells mostly groceries with a modest amount of hardware and other items thrown in to meet her customers' needs.
The Mart sits in the center of a two-block-long cluster of buildings that represents what is left of the Joplin business district. About half of the buildings are empty, including the old Joplin Cafe, which sits kitty-corner from the Mart. To the untrained eye it's impossible to tell what type of merchants once plied their trades in the dark and desolate buildings that today line the street, but the overall impression is unmistakenly bleak.
The Hi-Line Floral Shop sits next to the Mart and does a healthy business supplying flowers for funerals and weddings, Pimley said. Wood Enterprises Inc. sells insurance in Joplin, and Hi-Line Chemical to the west of the Mart is still selling its chemicals to farmers. Kenn Snyder is trying to build a new cafe next to the Joplin Bar.
But to Pimley and most other residents, the double impact of drought and the Conservation Reserve Program holds little promise of economic development.
Pimley said many of the older farmers have put their land in CRP instead of passing it on to their children, and a few have left the area to retire in other parts of the country. Fewer farmers means fewer customers for the Mart.
Some young people also have put their land in CRP and gone other places to find 8-to-5 jobs, she said.
"And we've had no new people moving in," Pimley said.
Pimley predicts the decline in population is only going to worsen, because there is nothing to attract new people to Joplin.
Despite declining population and economic hard times, Joplin is blessed with a low crime rate, quiet, clean streets, many nice homes and a commercial club that, with nearby Inverness, is trying to boost the community's economic vitality.
Pimley, who is a member of the club, said they are working with the community of Chester and the Bear Paw Development Corp. of Havre to plan a future for the area that will halt the community's economic decline.
But so far, Pimley said, nobody has come up with any major ideas about how they are going to do it.
Joplin continues to be home for more than 100 residents who, according to Pimley, all know one another.
"You can't find a better place to live and raise kids," she said.