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How to Make Money in a Small Town

What can you do to make a living in a small town other than get a job? There are certainly many possibilities, but this page is going to look at the small town I know best: Cañon City, Colorado. The population is between 15,000 and 25,000 depending on who you ask or which online resource you consult (the latter figure seems to be for the whole of Fremont County). In the first year that my wife and I lived here, we saw six businesses fail in the downtown area. That's the bad news. The good news was that ten more opened up. In the five years that we lived there we saw many other businesses come and go.

Now, since I try to cover the more unusual opportunities I won't be listing all the new businesses. As for ourselves, we moved there in 2006 in order to be closer to the mountains we love, and it was possible because we had an internet business we could plug in anywhere, so that's a good place to start. If you start a business online that doesn't involve any delivery of products or any local sales, you can move to any small town you like that has good internet access, which is most of them in this country.

We like the no-shipping model of doing business online, but the internet has opened up many other possibilities in small town America, including those that involve shipping your products. In fact, a acquaintance of ours in Cañon City sells paddle boats and parts online, and has done so successfully for years. This is not a common business, nor an easy one to get started in, but he could probably run it from anywhere that has internet and delivery service (and I've heard that he may have moved it to Texas since I first wrote this). But what else do people in our small town do to make a living?

River Rafting Guide

This one is a job, but not a common one. The Arkansas River happens to run through town, and before that it runs through the Royal Gorge, creating class-5 rapids and going under the world-famous Royal Gorge Bridge (one of the highest suspension bridges in the world). Guiding people down the river and between the thousand-foot walls of the gorge is a seasonal job, and a tough one, but it's one that a hundred or more people around here seem to enjoy. Many live elsewhere but enjoy the work so much that they return each season.

Shoe Shining In Bars

One local goes from bar-to-bar several nights each week, shining shoes for $3. I'm not sure how much he makes doing this, but he has been at it for years. Of course, it is likely that only small-town bars would allow him to come in and sell his service. He will also paint the ladies fingernails for a dollar or two (my wife has had hers done), and he has dozens of colors to choose from.

Selling Cheese

We were at the brewpub downtown one afternoon when we still lived in Cañon City, and we met a traveling cheese salesman. This is certainly not a common profession, but this gentleman buys specialty cheeses and meats and sells them here and there for a profit. The owner of the bar not only was okay with this, but recommended the smoked Gouda, which we bought and took home with us. It was delicious. It makes one wonder what else could be sold in small-town bars (but more on that in a moment).

Guiding Fishermen

You would think this would be a common profession anywhere there are rivers full of fish. But for some reason, it is more common here in the west. Perhaps the fish are harder to catch than in Michigan or Wisconsin. Certainly some of the mountain streams are more difficult to access. Looking over the pamphlet from the local service I can see that he pay is good for a day as a fishing guide, but business is probably not too predictable, at least until you build a clientele that returns year after year.

Selling Roses

If you want to sell a rose to a man for his wife or girlfriend or date, you should make the pitch while the woman is there, and after he has had a beer or two. That's what one man does in the local bars. I'm not sure where he gets his roses or what he pays for them (he may get the older ones cheap or just buy them by the dozen from Walmart) but he charges a few dollars each and it seems that he rarely leave a bar without a sale.

Selling Hot Tamales

You have probably heard the expression, "They were selling like hot tamales." I'm not sure that hot tamales are always a best seller, but we recently bought a couple dozen from a woman who makes them at home and sells by word-of-mouth. She will even do them with all-organic ingredients if you order them that way. You have to buy at least a dozen ( for $12 in this case), but they can be frozen for later use. If you sell them you probably can do so without a license or health department inspection, at least if you do so in smaller towns.

Making Banjos

Okay, I think the banjo maker in town stopped making them before he moved here, but that was his profession in the last small town he lived in, as he explained to us (yet again at one of the local pubs). More recently he is a real estate developer. I think that may pay better for the latter business if it is done right.

Catalog Sales in Spanish

In larger cities you can find stores where people speak Spanish. But this is not so easy in some small towns. As a result, a friend of ours can make money selling things from a catalog in Spanish. I'm not sure if the company is a Mexican one that ships here, or simply a U.S. company which recognizes the ever-growing market for products that are sold and marketed in Spanish.

Candy Sales

One of the first times we went to a bar in Cañon City we were approached by a woman selling peanut brittle. We will try almost anything once, so we bought some. Sadly, it was not very good, but you have to admire her entrepreneurial spirit. She sells other candy as well, which she makes at home. She travels to several small towns around the area, stopping by each bar for a while to make a few sales. It isn't clear if she can make a living doing this or if it just supplements a retirement income of some sort.

One thing that is clear from this and the other examples above, though, is that the bar owners and operators in small towns might be more tolerant than big-city taverns are of vendors. This easy attitude probably extends beyond the local pubs as well, so perhaps making money can be more creative in many small towns due to this relaxed atmosphere.

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