BY ANNIE HUSTON, BIRDSALL & CO.
We all have at least one: a go-to place on snowy days, a refuge after a difficult day, a unique spot designed to impress out-of-town guests. Local businesses create the culture of the city by providing a curated environment that specifically considers our interests, neighborhoods, and values. This is something generic online retailers can never duplicate.
So what happens when we all support a local, independent retail business? Besides making a real person do a little happy dance, $68 out of $100 spent stays within the community, versus $43 from a national chain. That’s quite a difference, but it’s only a financial benefit and doesn’t represent the larger perks.
Engaging with our community – The pandemic taught us how we all rely on each other for human comfort. It’s going to the neighborhood liquor store where they already know what we will drink on this Friday evening, where we go to ask for a donation to our favorite cause, where there are dog treats behind the counter, and ultimately where we sense that we really live in a small village.
A supportive neighborhood will attract equally supportive merchants. My dogs love (well, sort of!) the staff at Park Animal Hospital and Wellness Center. They sent me a note when my cat passed in another emergency pet hospital, but somehow they heard about it. That touched me!
Creating memories – Traditions are important to mark the passage of time. I, for one, look forward to the seasonal pumpkin pecan ice cream from Bonnie Brae – I would not dream of serving a generic one to my family. The hyacinth plant for my birthday is always purchased from Country Fair garden center – it smells better.
I have seen the comings and goings of many local businesses over the decades and mourn the loss of some. I’m thinking of the garden center Paulino’s, where I spent many hours browsing through remarkable plant material, some of it locally grown. Other local landmarks are still around, albeit under different ownership. Tattered Cover was and is a mainstay of the Denver landscape; I personally had a line item in the budget for weekly trips to it with my young kids. I would buy the New York Times and wait for them (often for hours) to pick out their own books.
Experiential shopping – The experience of going out in the world, picking a place where we feel valued, appreciated, recognized, understood, and helped will never go out of style. Small merchants have the freedom and ability to change based on the local demand. Your comments, habits, and distinct purchases absolutely influence what we stock. Suddenly you’ll see more of what you like. No need to check with corporate to see if it’s acceptable.
For small business, nothing less than excellence will suffice. One bad experience at a chain store or restaurant, and the consumer will still come back. One less than perfect encounter in a local business and the Yelp review will be posted. Oh, the conversations business owners have about Yelp! Sure, it’s frustrating, but it’s even more impetus to perfect all aspects of your business to ensure that every experience for every single person is positive, educational, and inspiring.
Creativity and innovation go hand-in-hand, hopefully making a significant impact on our visitors who are searching for curated experiences and inspiration. It is not our job to follow the trends blindly; instead, we constantly innovate in our field, with a focus on artistry, workmanship, and diversity that is often overlooked in big box organizations. I personally want to be surprised when I visit an independent shop. Staying stagnant is not acceptable, whether it be in the products or services we provide or in the way we deliver them.
So, let’s think about this, as my friend Colleen, the pragmatic one, would say. What world do we want? It seems we are all responsible and equipped to build it, to claim it as we dream it. Just think about it!