Last weekend i photographed a “bougie” small town in West Michigan. This weekend, I went to Wayland, south of Grand Rapids. It felt and smelled more like a classic small town in the Midwest. (The smell was a hint of manure and hay from a truck and trailer that went through town just as I was parking. It made me feel nostalgia for small town of my youth.) As in the past few weeks, I did a Polaroid look, this week returning to the 1×1 format.
Wayland has a population a bit over 4,000. It has a mix of farming and small industry. The town is near the Yankee Springs recreation area, so it perhaps also gets some local mountain and road biking, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, and cottage country folk coming through too.
The first three images depict elements of the local economy. A farm and a gravel pit (“paving materials supplier”), both a few miles northeast of town. And, a food and food supplies manufacturer in town. You also can see an old feed mill on the top left of the third image.
Wayland has small central business district with some historic Midwestern buildings. As usual I spent most of my time there. I photographed a classic small town bar that does a bit of everything–cheap beer, sports, food, pool tables, and live music. The Mexican restaurant’s colorful paint job caught my eye for the way it complemented the old-fashioned Midwestern architecture. I also liked the hair salon in a renovated old garage/gas station.
A lot of Wayland’s economy today is to the west, a bit outside of the historic business district, where there is room for big box stores and large parking lots. (Do small small towns have a version of “suburbs” or “exurbs”?) There also are several good sized apartment complexes in Wayland, including public housing owned by the state, as in many small towns. There also is a branch of Veterans of Foreign Wars in town.
The town has a railroad track running through the edge of the business district. Trucking probably has mostly replaced the RR in Wayland’s economy as for most places. But the RR once was essential to the life-blood of small town economies. You can see the old feed mill sitting beside the RR tracks in the image above, along with semi-truck trailers by the tracks near the food plant.
The first picture below looks in the opposite direction, south, from the food plant. The second shows a pop corn and cotton candy trailer for fairs parked in a septic and event service business–a delightful combination for a business! The third image is of a confluence of vehicles at the main corner in the business district. You can see a reflection of the sign for the town hall in the middle of the image.
My biggest regret in photographing small towns in West Michigan this summer has been not being able to eat in some of the local restaurants. I know you can, technically. And I suppose I am relatively safe, since I’m vaccinated. But I’m still only doing takeout. Maybe next summer, assuming we are past COVID-19 (knock on wood), I’ll go back to the towns I’m photographing this summer and eat and photograph in some of the restaurants.
In the meantime, enjoy the cool weather that has come with the transition from summer to fall. Continue to remember to stay safe. The start of the school year has coincided with a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in West Michigan, as in many parts of the country, many of them un-vaccinated younger people who had not been wearing masks.