- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas At the Crawford Country Style store, "East Meets West 2002" T-shirts sell for $18 a piece. They feature an Arab on a camel facing a cowboy on a horse, and read "Crown Prince Abdullah & President George W. Bush Prairie Chapel Ranch Crawford, Texas."
"Every time there's a dignitary here, we're trying to bring in one or two little gift items that commemorate that leader's visit," said Norma Nelson Crow, who owns and runs the gift shop with her cousin Larry Nelson.
The handful of shops in Crawford, population 705, are profiting from tourists and dignitaries visiting Mr. Bush's nearby ranch, such as Prince Abdullah, who is scheduled to meet the president today.
Crawford Country Style racked up as much as $18,000 in sales when British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited the Western White House earlier in the month, Mrs. Nelson said. "People were lined up for hours to check out."
Mr. Bush bought his 1,600-acre ranch, about eight miles from Crawford's only traffic light, in October 2000, while governor. The railside town was thrown into the international spotlight once he was elected president. Mr. Bush spends vacations and some holidays here, and has played host, a la Camp David, to various foreign leaders, including Mr. Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Those making the winding drive along Prairie Chapel Road to catch a glimpse of the property pass other farms on the way, replete with lime-green fields and goats. Closer to the ranch, road signs state "No Stopping, No Standing, No Parking on Right of Way." Otherwise, no presidential insignias stake claim to the retreat, save a small "U.S. Property, No Trespassing" gate marker.
Residents are heartened Mr. Bush's presence has brought the town back to life. A local Chamber of Commerce was formed in December 2000, a burgeoning souvenir trade has taken root, and the bed and breakfasts in the outlying areas have an additional drawing card.
Crawford collected $30,655 in sales tax revenue for the fiscal year ended Oct. 31, an increase of 70 percent over the previous year, Mayor Robert L. Campbell said. He projects about $35,000 for this fiscal year.
"It's helped our economy a lot," said Deborah Adams, who works at both the Brown Bag Gift Shop and the Fina gas station next door. "We didn't have but one little convenience store."
Main Street now includes about a half dozen gift shops, a barbershop, the Crawford Police Department, and a heating and air-conditioning service and sales business. The town also has a post office, eight area churches, a quarry and nearby Tonkawa Falls Park.
The biggest beneficiary of Crawford's newfound fame is the Coffee Station, a combination restaurant-gas station-gift shop, at the intersection of Highway 317 and Farm Road 185 across from the grain silo. Nancy Baird and her husband, Kirk, run the place, where the most popular item is chicken fried steak.
Mr. Bush has eaten at the restaurant a couple of times, Mrs. Baird said, and his visits naturally bring media and Secret Service agents. The restaurant's 70 seats, however, are typically filled with locals.
"The tourists and the Bush excitement is an added bonus. Regardless, when he's done with the eight years, people will still come here," said Mrs. Baird, 30, suggesting the president will get elected to a second term. The Coffee Station's sales for all three businesses range from $1,200 on a slow day to $6,000 on a great day, like the November Friday when Mr. Putin visited the ranch.
On weekends, sightseers mostly from the surrounding central Texas area flock to Crawford to grab a taste of rural life and soak up the political ambiance. Yet some are disappointed after seeing the gaunt, self-proclaimed home of the 43rd president.
"I think this place could definitely use a face lift," said Brian McCullough, 34, clutching two bags of souvenirs and pushing his son, Ian, in a baby stroller. A Cleveland native, he is a U.S. Army major stationed in Killeen, about 80 miles to the southwest.
To that extent, Crawford is trying to improve its crumbling infrastructure and sparse two-block business district.
One sign of the effort: The town is holding a May 4 election on whether to raise the sales tax.
The referendum would be on a .05 percent boost to the current 7.75 percent sales tax. If passed, it would fund economic development projects or police department improvements.
Mr. Campbell opposes both the tax increase and the glut of souvenir shops. While the tax spike is intended to feed off tourists, the town's older residents, who have fixed incomes, would feel the pinch too, he said.
"My desire would be to do something more lasting," said Mr. Campbell, who is also a Methodist minister. "There will come a time when Mr. Bush is no longer president, and what is the basis for these shops?"
Mr. Campbell points out that a bank is expected to open in the fall on Main Street, and the town is trying to attract a grocery store.
City officials and local business owners can work together, he said, to entice much-needed service industries, such as a small hotel, rather than a tax-funded economic development team.
The Bairds, who opened the Coffee Shop about two months before Mr. Bush was elected to office, support the tax-increase referendum.
"The community can use a little dressing up," Mr. Baird said. "You might as well get all the bang for your buck."
Crawford, founded in 1867, subsisted as a farming town through the 1950s, relying on such crops as cotton and corn. It had several general stores and gas stations, as well as a movie theater and car dealership.
But Crawford lost jobs and population to more urban areas, like Waco, about 20 miles away. The family farms in the vicinity folded, too.
Mr. Campbell, a Democrat, struggles to balance Crawford's needs and wants. The town redid its water distribution system, and hopes to update its sewer system, though the planning began before Mr. Bush got into office.
On the flip side, he is making sure Crawford is shrewd about its celebrity status. He is teaming up with Baylor University, for instance, to try to land the presidential library once Mr. Bush leaves office.
He was a part of a fact-finding mission that visited Plains, Ga., the hometown of former President Jimmy Carter, to learn how the tiny town survived after its president left Washington. "We'll go after every opportunity we can to improve ourselves."
Plains brought in 1 million to 2 million visitors a year when Mr. Carter was president.
Nevertheless, some longtime residents have mixed feelings about Crawford's stardom.
Teresa Bowdoin, a native, serves as president of the town's volunteer chamber. She estimates the town gets about 50 daily visitors, which triples when Mr. Bush hosts a world leader. She is worried that the town will lose its community feeling, given the small wave of outsiders now moving in because of the president.
Mrs. Bowdoin, who owns a Crawford tent-making company, is realistic about moving on, though. "It's hard, because you know your community is going to change. If it doesn't change, it dies."

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