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Small Town Cool

Published: April 13, 2021

A sold sign in the front yard and a packedmoving truck at the curb signaled morethan relocation for Brian and Kristen Lee.Like the keys to the familys new place,they marked a fresh chapter in a story aboutlifestyle choices.

A Cultural Movement of Hope

Small Town CoolEight years ago, Brian 01 and Kristen(Huber 02) Lee moved from East Nashville,Tennessee, to Hillsboro (then, population6,200) in south central Illinois, to joina cultural movement of hope already inprogress.

They had lived in the greaterNashville area for eight years when anemerging cultural shift toward smallcommunity life piqued their interest. Aslocal shops popped up nearby and neighborsgot to know each other, Brian felt for thefirst time that our neighborhood was smallenough, and the community close enough,to recognize people and to be recognized.He and Kristen found this atmospherefulfilling.

So, when an opportunity arose to purchaseand renovate a building in downtownHillsboro, back home near Kristensfamily, the couple decided to try small-townlife more fully.

National Trend: Young Families Opt for Small Town Life

In doing so, Brian and Kristen flouted thepopular narrative bemoaning the demiseof small-town America. They joined anational trend identified by University ofMinnesota sociologist Ben Winchester:small-town residents who leave for the cityin their 20s return later in their 30s and 40swith degrees, work experience, professionalconnections and families in tow.

Brian and Kristen brought every ounceof their passions and talents to bear onrevitalizing downtown Hillsboro. Brianrenovated their building, turning a portioninto a chic loft apartment for their family,and started the blog Small Town Cool todocument Hillsboros rejuvenation.

Overthe next few years, the Lees encouragedother Hillsboro dwellers in renovation andSmall Town Coolentrepreneurship, including fellow G.U.alumni Devin 11 and Emilie (Garman10) Moroney and Matt 08 and Missy(Weatherby 08) Sands. Brian, Devin andMatt opened The Gold Pan: Record Store& Recording Studio in the Moroneys ownrenovated downtown building.

All-In Attitude

When it comes to reviving a small ruraltown, Brian says, positivity is huge.

That was actually my inspiration to startblogging. I knew there were some really coolthings going on [in Hillsboro] and I felt likegetting those things out in front of peoplecould help to change the temperature ofhope for the future.

Brian also highly recommends an all-inattitude. He draws on qualities fostered atGreenville University, like commitmentto excellent work, to fuel success.

Goodenough is not good enough when yourestarting a small business or redesigning ahistoric storefront, Brian says; he completesevery project at his top ability. He also leansheavily on habits of self-motivation and self-teaching,skills he gained at G.U. when helearned to record his own music.

Small Town CoolLower Cost of Living, Higher Threshold to Create

Like families across the nation, the Leesenjoyed trading city for town. They founda lower cost of living and a higher thresholdto renovate and create, not to mentiongreater opportunities to really know theirneighbors.

Pretty cool!

Visit the Lees blog
This story originally appeared in theSummer 2019 RECORD.
Photos of Brian at work courtesy


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