BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON - The Tri-Cities are hardly a small town. The 2010 census will likely show the combined population of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland, Washington (for census purposes West Richland is also included) to be more than 250,000 people. Yet, in some ways, the traditional downtown areas still feel like the small towns they were not much more than a generation ago.
I don't find it the least bit odd that my grandmother gets into conversations pretty much no matter where we go in the Tri-Cities. After all, she's lived the vast majority of her adult life in Kennewick, so she should know a lot of people. Indeed, I've rarely gone to a grocery store or discount store with her without running into a distant family member, someone she used to volunteer with, or someone she used to see at high school sporting events.
On the other hand, there's basically no reason for me to end up in a conversation in the Tri-Cities, as I've only lived in the area briefly, and most of the people I worked with in that time have also moved away. Yet, seemingly whenever I headed to downtown Kennewick or Pasco, I ended up in a conversation. I've been asked about my computer, my camera, my shirt from California, and my handbag. I've met an information technology professional that grew up and works in Kennewick, a historian from Sacajawea State Park, and someone from western Benton County that just happened to be looking for honey at the Pasco Farmer's Market on Saturday.
Furthermore, each of these people was very willing to talk about the local businesses in the downtown areas that they trust. In downtown Kennewick, especially, there are a long string of specialist business that these locals I have met claim even to have lower prices than the chains out by Columbia Center. I haven't personally verified most of these claims, but I do remember visiting T&L Office Supply in Kennewick back in 2006, and not only were their prices competitive at that time, but the proprietor made a special order of something I wanted that I ultimately had my grandparents pick up much later. So, I can't contradict the claims, and I can back up at least one of them.
Those of us who live in Toronto should understand this concept--community isn't about the size of the local population, it's about what individuals carve out of it. Just like the neighborhoods of Toronto form their distinct communities and identities, so can the downtown areas of the Tri-Cities.