In some states, the only thing necessary to qualify as a town is to have a general store. As a result, many small towns have sprung up around general stores — much as they used to around greens, churchyards, train stations, and harbors. Most cities that appear like this do so along well-trod (or at least heavily-trod) paths, but not La’Pitac. Named for the now-defunct Lapit AC supermarket chain, La’Pitac did not slowly accumulate travelers and grow thereby; instead, the sparse population of the general region slowly moved closer and closer to the closest supplier of manoure bags, wellington boots, and coffee beans over the course of decades, until they reached a nearly suburban density (and the land outlying, from which they had come, was all the more desolate and lonely now that they had gone). What few travelers passed through La’Pitac’s laughable ‘city center’ before the molasses-slow exodus were totally gone after it. Now, it gets two trucks: one to deliver goods from the distribution warehouse in the county seat to the supermarket (replenishing supplies), and the other to pick up trash. They pass each other every Sunday morning, and wave: the trash men start around 4:00 AM and finish ridding the sprawling residential area of refuse around 4:30, and so they exit the city by the only state road around then, just in time for the first deliveries of the distributor’s day.
With the cost of the necessities of life being what it is, along with taxes on the land, La’Pitac’s residents have slowly begun to prioritize the things that keep them financially secure. They move closer together as they get rid of more of their land, and at the same time abandon the kind of agricultural work that benefited from large tracts. Ten years after the Lapit was built in the center of that ranchland (and 5 after Lazulos GmBH, the parent company of Lapit Stores Consolidated, Inc., was torn apart by hungry creditors), La’Pitac was officially incorporated. Ten years later, a quarter of residents of working age were employed by the supermarket. Ten years after that, it was eighty nine percent of a population that had aged without growing — some residents happily retired, and others rendered decrepit from age and hard living and thus out of the game under protest. This market, the town’s only link with the outside world, sold all necessities, and with the exception of some private illegal gambling between the deputy (and acting sheriff for years now) and the volunteer fire brigade, all money that was exchanged was touched by it.
The Lapit in La’Pitac retained, perhaps through a perverse veneration for tradition, its now long-dead franchise’s policy: with the exception of on-date perishables, we will have no less than five percent markup for any good! And so, with every day, the pool of cash within La’Pitac, circulating through the filter of the Lapit AC Super Save-Mart (“High selection, Low prices, Guaranteed!”TM), had a little trickle siphoned off (sent to the owner of the store, a chartered accountant in a bustling bourgeois little burb on the other side of the mountains who had never been to La’Pitac, to join hundreds of other little trickles in his own private pool). Over the years, the dip in the high-tide mark became more and more noticeable.
A few years ago, there was a change in policy. The accountant had gotten religion, of a sort. To help save the environment (something near and dear to these rural folk) and to promote and preserve the local cultural traditions (these salt of the earth tinkerers and ranchers had all sorts of ingenious crafts, borne out of necessity in the direct struggle with the sublime mercuriality and force of raw nature), he announced that half of all goods would be locally produced.
Half of the store’s employees were laid off, and those who could persevere through such an event found themselves making crafts: no longer technically Lapit employees, they earned their Lapit-signed paychecks by using Lapit EZ-Stitch crochet needles on Lapit Super Bulk-Save yarn, or carving Lapit Outdoors brand pre-cut display logs with Lapit Xtra-Last chisels and planes into the shape of the beloved characters found in the small and rarely-updated comic rack of Lapit’s periodical display. You couldn’t eat these things, so they were all sold to the store before the store sold them to anyone else. Each one is selling slower and slower, as ownership of doilies, mittens, sponges, and rustic novelty sculptures begins to reach saturation.
The rear stockroom is filling up with unsold items, and a sculpture of Finky Mouse, the beloved star of the C-grade Donald Duck imitator of the same name, has had its asking price from the store go from a buck fifty to seventy-five cents in the past week. The accountant has begun to consider buying out the excess stock himself (at a discount, of course) and adding it to his collection of kitsch souvenirs: he likes to have a local product from everywhere he owns property; it reminds him of his kinship with these communities.
The large house near the center of town, built by the previous owner of the Lapit (before he had to sell the title, and before he died one night in his sleep, leaving through the slow churn of probate and genealogy his remaining assets and debts to some distant cousin several times removed), has been carved up into apartments. If they got some more partitions and split the rooms in half one more time, there would be enough rooms to house every remaining resident of this town not already bedridden. These thin grey men and women, — backs stooped from repeated impacts of pick on soil in the fields they once tilled, tended, and owned; eyes downcast; jumpy with the memory of shouting managers and fatigued by the inescapable reminders of their smallness, their fragility, and their disposability in the face of strong cold winds and leaky doors and threadbare blankets — considered selling off or abandoning their small cabins and tiny windowsill gardens and moving in.