“I think there are a lot of people who like to travel the backroads—they may cut through South Dakota on their way to Omaha or Minneapolis—and I think that they would like to know these places,” said Joan Sacrison, creator of the Facebook page Backroads Dakota—Rural Retail on the Backroads.
Sacrison created the page after reminiscing about places she and her husband had visited while cruising backroads and exploring the heartland. In just over three months, the page has featured seven businesses and has generated a following of more than 1,100 people.
“I’ve already had someone tell me that they whiz through on Highway 14, and they stopped at one of the shops that I posted. So, people are watching and reading, and they want that little diversion, I think,” Sacrison said. “Immediately, it caught on. I (posted about) the Prairie Porch, a little shop in Arlington … and it immediately had like 3,000 views. … Ardy’s Bakery (in Clear Lake, S.D.) had like 80,000 reaches. It’s been phenomenal.”
In order for a business to be featured on her Facebook page, fans—not owners—of the business must contact Sacrison with photos and a paragraph or two explaining the business and what makes it unique.
“This isn’t really an advertisement (venue),” she said, adding that she’s not looking to explore each of the businesses and post information exclusively from her own experiences, either. “It’s not up to me to find these places. You do it! You’re traveling that backroad, and you love it.”
Sacrison said her page is for big-deal businesses in small towns—not small businesses in big towns.
“They usually have money—they have customers or clients,” she said. “I didn’t just do ‘favorite places.’ It’s rural. … I’m looking at small places.”
Although the page aims to feature the unique “destination” shops of the rural Dakotas and along their borders, Sacrison said she is not trying to minimize the importance of other businesses in rural communities.
“There are some gems that will pull people off the main highway (to visit),” she said. “Then, maybe they’ll go to other businesses. … Any tax dollars will help build our infrastructure. … Maybe it’s that one place that will spark them to visit the rest.”
Sacrison, who is the executive director for Deuel Area Development, Inc., said business patronage is especially important to the livelihood of Smalltown, U.S.A.
“The bigger cities get more—they get more attention from the government (and) they get more from our state, but these rural towns are the ones that are just struggling to keep going,” she said. “They are some special places, (and) these little towns need business. … It’s my mission to at least pull people off the highway and have them come look at us.”
Sacrison, herself, “pulled off the highway” when she transitioned to rural living 32 years ago.
“I grew up in a city, and all of my adult years, I have lived rural,” she said. “I have grown to love it. I’ve seen the struggles of trying to keep businesses going (and) starting businesses. There are some great little spots on the backroads that entrepreneurs … have taken a risk to step out, go into the unknown and start these businesses. … I love them, and I love to take those backroads, and I love to find the shops, the eateries. … It may even be something as simple as cinnamon rolls or … a gift shop … that only the locals really support, because nobody knows about it unless they’ve been there before.”
Facebook seemed like the “loudest” word-of-mouth marketing Sacrison could provide for these businesses, she said. And the page has helped her fulfill a personal goal while promoting rural Dakota businesses: Sacrison said she’s always yearned to own her own business, and the Backroads Dakota page and her work in economic development are the next best thing.
“Part of my job is helping people see a vision and spark a fire and bring it to fruition,” she said. “This page was something I can contribute.”