Comfort Pizza in Comfort, Texas.

My name is Howard, and although I grew up in the center of New York City, I now live in a small Texas town.

If you’re like me (on the left with my bride of 23 years at right, Karen, a working artist), you enjoy visiting and maybe even living in a small town somewhere — whether it’s in the United States or even in another country. I’m biased, though. I think we live in one of the best small towns anywhere: Kerrville, Texas. I look forward to sharing more about our town and exploring others with you.

My Story

While my immediate forebears hail from small-town southern California, and while I live now in Kerrville, I was born and raised and spent most of my adult life in New York City. Upper East Side. Decidedly not small town! In the ’60s and ’70s, yes, it had a neighborhood feel, but even the neighborhood itself obviously did not have a small town identity.

I spent my first 18 years in a “pre-war” building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, living next to and above neighbors who, for the most part, had escaped Europe just before or during World War II or during the early part of the 20th Century. They were predominantly Russian and Polish. This contributed even to our building feeling like its own “community.”

50 East 96th Street. We lived on the top floor, whose windows overlooked both Madison Avenue, where the taxi is driving, and 96th Street, where you see the back of a bus. Jerome Florists, on the corner, started in the Bronx, and is one of the oldest family businesses around.

One neighbor, who lived in apartment 6C (we lived in 6B) was Mrs. Ziffer. She was like a grandmother to me. She and her husband, a doctor, escaped from Poland in the late 1930s as Hitler was invading. They moved to London, just in time to be bombed by the Luftwaffe, and then to New York City.

I spent my childhood vacations not often visiting exotic beaches or European cities as some of my peers did, but rather went along, often grumpily, on family trips to historic sites (e.g. Williamsburg, Virginia) or to visit relatives in small towns (e.g. Williamston, North Carolina; East Greenwich, Rhode Island; Babylon, Long Island, New York).

There was a pivotal moment when, at age 6, I had my first trip outside the U.S. (the only one until I was 22) and visited Mexico City and one of my mom’s college friend’s family for Christmas.

While there, we went to Valle de Bravo for a long weekend. (I learned only later how upscale this place was.) For some unexplained reason — perhaps they were all drinking sangria — I was allowed (age 6, mind you) to walk into town from where we were staying, because I wanted to buy a couple of pens and a notebook.

Using the little Spanish my host family taught me, I succeeded in procuring the pens and notebook, the latter which I still have, and which contains my first description of a small town. In this case, it was a Mexican family I’d encountered on the way back to the hotel. I can still remember the sensations I felt: there was something about this family that typified Valle de Bravo more than what was in the tourist publications.

And that’s what small towns are for me: family and community.

I’ve learned that even Manhattan and, more broadly, New York City can enjoy a small-town feel, if not identity, when one focuses on the health and well-being of their immediate neighborhood.  Just as one-time Speaker of the House Tip Neill said, “All politics is local,” so we might say that towns and small cities are “local” by definition. Those of us who live in them are for the most part fiercely loyal to them.

Why we want to help

You might be looking for a day trip or overnight, with your loved one or as a getaway to clear your head. Or you might be looking to move to start a family, or having raised your children you’re now looking at where you can retire in peace and comfort. Or you might even be interested in a local attraction that happens once or twice a year in a particular town, so you’re planning that visit on a long weekend.

Our goal is to connect you with a place. A place for the weekend, the month, or a life with your family.

America’s Downtowns

LIFE Magazine | photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt

The “downtown” area of any place — even a larger city — has a sense of history, community, and even opportunity. Take Times Square, for instance: it can be so impersonal, so crowded, and so crassly commercial, yet it’s also referred to as “the crossroads of the world.” Even in an overwhelming place like that you can encounter people you know. But in small towns, downtown is where you get your hair cut, meet a friend for coffee, and maybe shop for sundry items that aren’t at Walmart.

Small towns in America are where people fall in love, start a family, and spend their lives.

 

Howard Freeman | curator, SMALL TOWN USA, howard@americadowntown.com

 

 

Front page banner image: David Holmes

About Author

Husband, father, traveler, writer, surfer.

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4 Comments

    1. Thanks, Bill. It’s an honor and also dadgum fun that you can be part of this. Upcoming article: “The #1 Best Place To Stay In Escondido, CA.” Keep your eyes peeled.

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