ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.
Today’s guest blogger is Stephanie Salvago. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.
“How did you end up in Alabama?”
It is a question I ask people all the time.
I use to ask it with a tone of disbelief. Yet, I would meet people from New York, California, England, South Africa, and many other places, all of whom wound up in Birmingham.
Why would they move from these amazing places — places that I always have wanted to visit — to Birmingham, Alabama? And if it was something temporary, such as school or a job that brought them here, why did they stay?
Yes, there was a time when I couldn’t imagine anyone from a “bigger, cooler place” wanting to settle in Birmingham.
I’ve always loved this area but couldn’t imagine others, especially those who came here from these faraway “glamorous” places, wanting to live here.
I grew up hearing friends say that they couldn’t wait to get out of Birmingham and go elsewhere. I figured they may have known something I didn’t.
I loved growing up here — especially in that part of the metro area which is Bessemer, where my family has been rooted for generations. Bessemer is a place that has had its struggles over the years — economic, political, ethnic, racial, educational. But, as Dorothy said in the Wizard Of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”
I love Bessemer and have come to love its big sibling Birmingham. Loving Birmingham, however, for someone born in the late 1980s, hasn’t always been easy.
While in college at the University of Montevallo, my friends and I would drive the roughly 45 minutes into Birmingham, hoping to have one of those “college student nights in the big city, “ but it was never as amazing as we had hoped. Eventually, it was not even worth the gas to drive into town. Simply put, Birmingham seemed to be declining and didn’t appear to have much to offer.
I found myself thinking, “Birmingham is lame. There is nothing to do and nothing new.” I started thinking of maybe getting away from Alabama after college, even given my strong family ties.
But like people, cities change.
And the Birmingham I had known in my college days, started to change.
I began hearing about how people were taking risks in the city. Opening up specialty stores and restaurants. Breweries started showing up in once-neglected places like Avondale. At first I was excited, but nervous that this new spirit wouldn’t last. Would people actually go into the city, just a few years after so many of my peers had written off Birmingham, even if it meant spending a little more on local draft beer than a national off-the-shelf brand?
Yet, these places started to thrive, igniting a new energy that seemed to radiate throughout much of the city. Risk had brought about results, paving the way for renewal.
I have never been as proud of my city as when these places — representing a cultural renaissance — started to thrive! People were coming out and supporting local businesses. Once I graduated from college in August 2009 — and was “older, wiser” and more mobile — I really started exploring MY city.
I also wanted to contribute to the growth of my city — Birmingham! I started trying new places, meeting new people and doing new things. It did not always turn out the way that I had hoped but more times than not I would end up with a new favorite restaurant or bar or new interest to pursue. Art classes near Five Points South is but one example.
Another turning point was when I decided to move out of Bessemer and move into Birmingham, something I never could have imagined five years ago. However, I wanted to be in the city; that’s where I felt my peers were starting to congregate and I wanted to be a part of it all.
I haven’t been disappointed. I am still finding new things to do and explore in my city. Finally, I’ve started to feel like an insider not an outsider; someone who lives in the city, not someone who just visits the city. I like to see myself as trying new things, as having grown and changed just like Birmingham, as being one of those Millennials, now 29, who is infusing new life into the city as the city infuses my life with energy, diversity and excitement.
I am finally understanding why people are moving to and staying in Birmingham, be they from one of the suburbs, a city in another part of the US or even another country. Now when I ask the question, “What brought you to Birmingham?” I ask it with a tone of excitement. It may be something I never heard of before, it may be something for me to try. It may even be something that becomes my new favorite thing.
Stephanie Salvago was born and raised in Bessemer, AL and now lives in Birmingham. She is the Marketing Director at the Levite Jewish Community Center.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org.