Travel Indiana towns a few times and you notice something: those small businesses are what make a town. You probably already know that when you shop local, your money is more likely to stick around in the community. The last thing you want is for your town to look like a “clone town,” a place where it matches every other town in terms of its chain shops and restaurants. Where is the fun in that?
That’s not what I am looking for when I travel Indiana and I am sure it isn’t what you want either (or you probably wouldn’t be on this site). So, why should you shop small businesses not only during the holiday season but all year round? Chances are if you are already a Little Indiana fan, you know it’s good for the economy and your community. You know that your money is money well spent, to help a family or solo entrepreneur succeed. But maybe you haven’t really committed to the practice of shopping locally.
We’ve all driven through those towns where the interior of the down is dying–but the big box store down the street is doing just fine. The only way to change that is to change your thinking. Here are the facts about small businesses and the impact they have on communities.
The point is this: shop small whenever you can. If there’s no small business around you that sells books or toys or office supplies or coffee, and you can’t wait until you can make a trip to a town near you with it, then fine. It’s okay to turn to the big box stores (although you will never find me at a Wally World–I am choosy when it comes to chains). But don’t brainlessly shop big box to shop big box, joining the ranks of the sleepy-eyed, zombie-shuffling, cart-pushing crowd. You have other options.
Once you start visiting mom and pop shops, it will become a habit. You’ll feel good about the connections you create. Make Small Business Saturday something you simply do. It becomes a part of who you are and something you look forward to. Like Frank Cross (Bill Murray) from Scrooged said,
“For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!”
You can be that person too. Shop small, support your community and love where you live. Need a few more facts about small businesses? Well, then. Here you go…
Small Business Facts and Revelations
Forbes revealed that there are almost 28 million small businesses in the U.S., with more than 50% of the working population (that’s 120 million people) working in a small business. That’s a lot of small businesses supporting real people who don’t own their own jets, multiple vacation homes, or million-dollar diamond rings. Here’s a few startling facts and revelations you may not know.
Towns as Destinations
No one travels to a town and says, “Oh, wow, look! It’s all those big chain stores we have back home!” Local businesses are what give a small town, or any area, its charm. It’s what makes some small towns, like Kirklin, Wabash, and Covington, and cities like Franklin and Richmond (to name a few out of MANY) just plain fun destinations. They offer a dazzling variety of shopping that keeps people returning. The mom and pop restaurants don’t hurt them either.
Small Business Doesn’t Always Mean You’ll Pay More
Don’t think that a small business equates with higher pricing. Blame the vendor. If a small business is carrying a product from a national product line, those prices are determined by the vendor. Pop in and you may be surprised. Many small businesses make it a point to support the people within their town or region, so you might find locally-made items for sale as well. The prices might be comparable when it comes to the national product lines but, at the very least, at least you know the profits go to a member of your community.
Want variety? Shop local.
A local shop doesn’t have to stock fifty of the same item to satisfy customers. Instead, they have the space to devote to a variety of items. Quality is better than quantity. As a nice little bonus, you can often find one-of-a-kind items made by someone within the community. Do you think that mom and pop gift store would appreciate your business a bit more? I can tell you that I’ve found fabulous gift items at small town shops–and not always at a shop that you would think would even have gifts. Many small businesses perform double-duty, with a service and gift shop all in one. Take a look at the Willow Switch in Rensselaer–it is part coffee shop (try the “Rensselaer Makes Me Crazy” blend) and part gift shop. You can often find the same brands you like, as well as new brands you will love, in addition to locally-crafted things, with the kind of customer service you crave.
Bigger Isn’t Better
People tend to think that bigger is better, but when it comes to an item that’s out of stock, you might be in a better position to not only look in a small town shop first but to place a special order for it there, too. When you deal with a business owner or someone who represents them as a manager, you deal with someone who has a claim in that business. There’s not typically hundreds of employees who are less than thrilled at being there. They are, instead, one of maybe a dozen people (if that) who feel kind of like a family. They’ve built up connections not only with each other but also with their vendors. So, they can reach out to their reps and order exactly what you want, without the hassle of walking down aisle after another aisle looking for someone, anyone with a name tag.
The Customer Knows Best
While that isn’t always true (as anyone who has ever worked in retail can tell you), a small business will often go out of their way to make things okay. They aren’t tied up in the “chain of command” like too many big box stores. They are able to make a decision then and there regarding your problem or they can at least get in touch with their manager or owner a whole lot faster. When you need to talk to someone, you don’t have to type in a bunch of numbers to land at the correct desk. There are no outsourced calls so the person on the phone is the person down the street. As you frequent the same stores, many small business owners will begin to understand your tastes–and will not hesitate to clue you in on something they got in that they believe you would enjoy. It’s a definite perk to shopping small.
Small Business Has Less Impact on the Infrastructure
You may not have thought about it, but take a look at the parking lot of your nearest chain shopping center. Pretty giant, eh? It’s also pretty ugly. There’s lots of parking places, traffic in and out, and a busy stretch on that part of the highway too. Small businesses are less of a strain on a town’s infrastructure. Less money is spent having to deal with the wear and tear on the roadways, seasonal maintenance (like de-icing in the winter), and certainly far fewer instances of Black Friday violence.
Who doesn’t appreciate a town that has shop after shop in close proximity? Unfortunately, too many towns lose one too many businesses and then begin to go a little overboard ripping things down to make room for parking. A new parking lot won’t solve your problems. What is really needed is a change in mindset, to make the effort to shop your local places first, and then to go from there. I quote the Mayor of Scottsburg, Indiana all the time.
Mayor William Graham once said to me, “If parking is the worst problem you have, then you are doing something right.” There’s a lot of truth in that. No one should drive through a town and see a bunch of ugly pavement. They should instead notice the bustling shops and beautified downtown. They should be so excited to get out of the car and start shopping that they don’t mind if they have to park a little further down the street at the public parking locale or if they needed to circle around the block to snag a free spot.
Scheduling Woes? Big Business Won’t Typically Care
Most small businesses take their employees scheduling preferences into consideration. If a small business were ever open on Thanksgiving, you can bet the owner probably is there too. It’s what my family has always done. I know they aren’t the only ones. You know that the CEO’s of those big box chains are hanging out with their families, while their employees are forced to work Thanksgiving day or evening, and probably the next day too.
When I first moved down to Indianapolis, I had a job at a video store. It was my first time living away from home. I was adjusting to balancing work and studying for school. I was more than ready for a trip home. Mom’s turkey! Mashed Potatoes! Real food I didn’t have to fix on my own (back then, that was a huge deal)! Lots of chatter. I was also scheduled to work on Thanksgiving Day. There was one customer that day. The only other two people I had that stopped by were looking for directions (something you probably don’t want to ask me for since I am so bad at navigation!).
Was it really that important to be open then? Absolutely not. You throw up a sign, you tell your customers in advance that you will be closed, and everyone can plan ahead, and enjoy their day. It’s that easy.
When It’s Time to Say “Goodbye”
When a small biz closes, what happens? The town mourns, the handful of employees find another small biz to work for, and we long for what we once had. There are many small town shops I still miss terribly–and they have been gone for years now. What happens when a large company closes? It can kill the town. I’ve seen it before and I am sure you have as well. Small business strengthens our economy. Andersonville Study of Retail Economics revealed that local business generates 70% more local economic activity per square foot than big box retail.
Small Business Saturday, Everyday
What are you doing to change your habits? Help the place where you live and the places you travel to be better. Support them with your hard-earned cash and watch your town evolve in ways you didn’t think possible.
I’m Jessica Nunemaker and THIS is Little Indiana. Just don’t forget to tell them that Little Indiana sent you.