Etna and McCloud have started their own successful revival efforts with a mix of these two approaches, with Etna leaning more toward a “fill the storefronts and they will come” strategy, and McCloud opting for the public events approach.

There are two basic approaches to reviving a small town, filling the empty storefronts. You can try to find a few brave souls to fill them, and then hope the customers will come. Or you can bring the customers first, draw them in with all kinds of public events, figuring that the foot traffic will encourage new businesses to start up.

Etna and McCloud have started their own successful revival efforts with a mix of these two approaches, with Etna leaning more toward a “fill the storefronts and they will come” strategy, and McCloud opting for the public events approach.

Etna, with a population of 700, is nestled in the sprawling ranchlands of the Scott Valley. Two years ago, says longtime resident Debbie Behm, “it was turning into a ghost town.”

So Debbie and her husband Bill decided to fulfill a longtime dream. They launched their Paystreak brewpub and restaurant in an empty building on the main street about a year and a half ago. It soon became a hub of activity, with live music on the weekends and an open mic on Mondays.

Then things started to snowball. Four partners, three of whom grew up in Etna, started a high-end destination restaurant and distillery, Denny Bar, across the street from the Behms’ establishment. It was soon drawing customers from the Bay Area and Oregon.

Erik Ryberg, who’d been selling his fresh-baked goods out on the street and at the Farmer’s Market, recently opened his Grain Street Bakery a few doors down from Paystreak. And just down from the bakery an attractive new pocket park has sprung up, a place where locals and tourists alike can hang out and mingle.

Now that there are things for visitors to do in the town, it’s time to crank up the festivals, says Ryberg, who’s also Etna’s mayor. There’s talk of a “grain festival” that would not only celebrate the town’s two bakeries but the new Denny Bar distillery, Paystreak Brewing, and the Etna Brew Pub. That would be added to existing events that include a Far North Music Festival, traditional rodeos, and summer “Jammin’ On Main” street closures that offer kids’ activities.

It’s tough to keep track of all things going on in McCloud (pop. 1100), what with the Mushroom Festival, the Bluegrass Festival, the once-a-year sprawling Flea Market, and the Victorian Christmas.

Now, as if that weren’t enough, if you’re an aspiring artist you can participate in Paint And Sip, drink wine while trying your hand at reproducing the work of an established artist. This November they’re launching Mountain Talks, modeled on Ted Talks, in which a variety of speakers will discuss topics related to health and wellness, sustainability and natural resources.

“Mountain Talks is something to bring people in during the off season,” says organizer Darlene Mathis, who also owns McCloud Mercantile. “If we relied on the folks who live here full time we wouldn’t make it.”

All these efforts are paying off: Five new restaurants have opened up in recent years, and the sprawling former lumber mill, long crumbling and vacant, is back in action. A business conglomerate, The McCloud Partnership, has purchased and fixed up the structure, which is now almost half occupied with a variety of new businesses.

In the past three years McCloud High has grown from six to 38 students and for the first time in many years is fielding sports teams.

So take heart, you struggling small towns. The examples of Etna and McCloud offer a couple of possible pathways to growth and success.

“All the parts were in place in our town,” notes Ryberg. “We already had a public library, a community pool, and a grocery store.”

“It just needed that one little spark to get it to the next level,” says Debbie Behm.