- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009


For the first time in eight years, this one-stoplight town is getting back to normal. The school is abuzz about its sports teams, not the next world leader whom President Bush will bring to campus from his 1,600-acre ranch outside town.

Only one souvenir shop remains open full time on Main Street - still hawking coffee mugs and Christmas ornaments emblazoned with “The Western White House” logo - and there are no more war protesters clogging the streets or news reporters clamoring for interviews.

After Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama, Mr. Bush’s ranch visits will be low-key and residents won’t see any more presidential motorcades dashing through town. He is moving from Washington to Dallas.

“It was fun to run to the end of the street just to watch the motorcade go across, and he would wave,” said LuAnn Smith, co-owner of Great Shapes, the town’s hair salon. “In a way, it will be a little sad. We will have to get used to it again, being a quiet little town.”

That quiet little town, about 20 miles west of Waco, has just 700 residents.

After Mr. Bush was elected in 2000 - he had bought the ranch a year earlier while still governor of Texas - a few souvenir shops opened in vacant downtown buildings.

The town with only one eatery, two gas stations and no hotels also opened a bank in 2002 - the first one there since the Depression - but that was because people had been moving into the area for years for its top-rated school system, leaders said.

“Nobody lives here because the president lives here, and nobody’s leaving because he’s leaving office,” said Marilyn Judy, president of the Crawford Chamber of Commerce. “Businesses that catered to tourists may be affected, but off of Main Street, regular people will not be affected by it.”

During Mr. Bush’s first term, thousands of tourists flocked to town, although Mr. Bush’s ranch seven miles from downtown is not visible from the road, and the souvenir stores thrived.

However, sales started dropping during his second term, leading at least one store to close and others to scale back. Some blamed Cindy Sheehan’s huge 2005 war protest during Mr. Bush’s ranch vacation in August.

Tourism also seems to have been affected by Mr. Bush’s waning popularity and the economy.

Late last year, the operator of the town’s largest souvenir store opted to close it except when Mr. Bush is at his ranch. Bill Johnson, owner of the Yellow Rose of Texas, said he has not decided whether to close the shop permanently but would consider selling it.

“In the last two years it was good when he was there, and really bad when he wasn’t there,” Mr. Johnson said. “Crawford is a unique little town and we were happy to be part of it, and we’ll continue if we can.”

Others are more optimistic.

Jamie Burgess, manager of the Red Bull gift shop, said her store will remain open because she thinks Mr. Bush will have more time to visit his ranch after he moves to Dallas.

“It sounds like he will be here quite a bit, and people will come hoping to see him,” she said.

It’s not just businesses that are affected.

The Crawford Texas Peace House, which opened in 2003 as a gathering place for people who wanted to oppose Mr. Bush in his adopted hometown, is reorganizing and will work with other peace groups, said co-founder John Wolf. The group is becoming the Crawford Peace Community and may sell its house in a year or so, he said.

“Bush is leaving office, but the group wants to continue for a year because it has become a regional center and a historical property,” Mr. Wolf said. “It’s amazing how many lives we touched, and we want to continue to be a positive force for change.”

Some say the town won’t return to its former obscurity, but they say Crawford has benefited from its most famous neighbor.

Mr. Bush met with several foreign leaders at the ranch and brought some of them - including Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister Tony Blair - to the school to talk to students.

“It’s hard for me to see any negatives of him being here,” said Kenneth Judy, former school superintendent who is now vice president of Security Bank of Crawford. “You had world leaders coming to the school, and it was a great educational opportunity.

“My impression was that he was a genuine guy, and now that he’s leaving office, we hope we get to see a little bit more of him.”

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