Denise Harlan calls Giddings, Texas — pop. 4,881 — the “quintessential small town.”
“Everyone knows each other, a lot of the people here grew up here, and they have a very strong caring spirit for each other,” she says.
Harlan is president of the Chamber of Commerce in Giddings, a town with a rich agricultural past — and present. It’s a town that’s been around more than 100 years — and you can tell, she says.
“You look at the City Meat Market, and that building has been there for probably a hundred years. And it’s still the same. Nothing’s changed.”
Then again, though, it has changed — if just a little bit.
The population in Giddings is shrinking slightly, but at the same time locals are seeing an increase in traffic coming through town. It’s situated right on U.S. 290 between Austin and Houston, making it a popular place to stop for food and fuel.
“All those cars coming from Houston to Austin every weekend support all of our businesses, whether you’re talking about the restaurants, the gas stations, the convenience stores, the retail shops — that traffic is lifeblood to our community,” says Harlan. “Our sales tax revenue from that traffic has seen a gradual increase over the past ten years, and honestly, I think the traffic is what keeps Giddings alive.”
The flip side of the traffic is that it’s caused the town to suffer some minor “growing pains.”
“When I moved here in 1983, you never had to wait at the stoplight,” says Harlan. “We didn’t even have stoplights at certain streets and today, with the growth of Texas, the traffic has just become probably the biggest issue.”
Town officials say that one challenge they’re facing is how to keep visitors around for more than just a half hour at a time. So they’re working on a few tourism-friendly projects, including restoring an old silent movie theater. They also restored a train depot here, and in 2011 Giddings was designated by the Texas Legislature as the “Depot Capital of Texas.”
Giddings has very low unemployment, says Harlan, and while that’s certainly a positive, it also raises other issues.
“We need some new subdivisions built, in order to house these new employees that we’re having to import to take on these new jobs, the oil field jobs, the manufacturing jobs – we’re going to have to have housing.”
In oil boom times, as the town’s seen in recent years, they’re able to invest a little more money in infrastructure and other civic projects, says Harlan.
“Change is hard for people, but change is good,” she says. “So even though as the technology changes, and the world changes, your community is going to change…so you have to be open minded about that, so that as those changes happen, you’re prepared to help the older generation accept those changes and make them a positive instead of a negative.”
Iris Segundo, 19, is a radiologic technology student at Blinn College in Brenham, a 45-minute commute from Giddings.
She lives and works and was raised in Giddings. The best part of living here, she says, is knowing most everyone in town.
“You walk into a business, you can tell them ‘hello,’ you know them by their name,” she says. “You always have someone to talk to.”
But, she says, there’s not always a lot of excitement going on.
“You can go back-roading and stuff, I mean that’s fun, it’s not that bad. [But] if you want to go to the movies, you have to drive like 30 minutes outside of town.”
She dreams of getting out of Giddings, she says — but she already knows that she wants to return here.
“A lot of people say that they don’t want to stay here forever in a small town, but a lot of people do come back,” says Segundo. “They’d like to raise their kids here. And that’s what I want to do.”
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