Thanks to American Express for sponsoring my writing today about small businesses. American Express is presenting Small Business Saturday, a way to honor the local merchants who are the backbone of the economy, this Saturday, November 27. They’re offering statement credits to people who shop at small businesses, advertising for small-business owners, and donations to Girls Inc. for “Likes” of the Small Business Saturday page on Facebook. Join the celebration by clicking the “Like” button and then visiting the Facebook page to learn more about the program and read the terms and conditions that apply.
I’ve been a supporter of small, locally-owned businesses since before I knew that was a thing. I didn’t do it because I was trendy, or cool, or even because I necessarily cared about supporting my community. But, my father owned a small business called Earl’s Sport Stop. It was a chocolate brown pole barn on the corner of 43 and 66 in Woodbury, Michigan. He sold boats, motors, bait, tackle, and pretty much any sort of hunting and fishing supplies you can imagine. My main contribution was the 65 cents I put in the pop machine most days. But, considering I usually got the 65 cents out of the cash register to begin with, I guess it wasn’t much of a contribution.
Still, I gained a real appreciation for what went into a small business like my dad’s store. In his case, because fishing was so weather- and holiday-dependent, I watched when he got up to open the store before dawn because the guys who worked for GM were off for Christmas and the ice was good out on Jordan Lake. I helped hand out the prizes at his annual Guys and Gals Fishing Tournament (held at the Schoolhouse Bar, where they had Pacman and Shirley Temples a’plenty). I knew when we had to cut back a little on the Christmas shopping because business was down.
Even more importantly than how it affected us, though, was the way my dad’s store affected the community. He gave jobs to kids in high school, usually when they were around a sophomore or junior. It was a huge point of pride to work for Earl, and most of his employees never forgot that. He always had chairs sitting around for “the bubbas” to come sit and bullshit with each other — our small town didn’t offer too much for the retired and unemployed guys to do, but this was a place where pretty much everyone was welcome, though they’d always get the evil eye from my mom and me when we’d come in and catch them cursing up a storm.
When my father retired and sold the store, the party made the front page of our paper. Yes, I know it was a tiny town and there wasn’t a lot of news, but still, not every small, locally-owned business makes the front page.
Knowing the way my dad’s small business impacted so many people’s lives has always made me a little extra sensitive about supporting the local businesses near me. Sure, I shop at the mall and Target, but when it comes time to buy a special, unusual gift, my local go-to is a little American craft gallery called Paddiwhack. They feature eclectic and whimsical items from really amazing artists — some local — and I call it my “Tiffany & Co.” because, just like the way Tiffany’s made Holly Golightly feel, I can’t imagine anything bad happening at Paddiwhack. It just makes me feel so happy.
But really, I go out to eat far more often than I shop for artsy gifts, so the small local businesses I frequent most are the restaurants. When I’m on campus, say, for a basketball game, and I just need a quick bite to eat, there’s Burrito Bros. Taco Company. For Italian, there’s no place like Fresco (which was right around the corner from our old place, and really the only reason I miss living there). Downtown, I love Civilization, The Top, Stubbies & Steins, and Boca Fiesta. And, a little closer to home, there’s my all-time favorite, La Fiesta, and a new favorite that’s just over a mile a way, Sabore.
The thing is, people talk about supporting small, local businesses like it’s a chore, and I just don’t see it that way. At least, not the way I do it. No, I don’t drive 45 minutes away to frequent the little local grocer because there’s a beautiful Publix less than half a mile from my door. But you’ll never see me choose a chain like Chili’s over an interesting local eatery. That’s not me making a sacrifice. To me, that’s just making better memories.
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