Are Big Box Stores the Best of Birmingham?

Today marks a momentous occasion in my life: Probably the very first time I’ve ever agreed with the comment section of an AL.com story.* The Birmingham News (or AL.com, or Birmingham Magazine, or whichever of the handful of brands that are really the same company but go by different names) released their Best of Birmingham poll, and … well, I’ll just let the commenters tell you:


Why are non-local/chain places included in the voting options? Should be Birmingham local owned businesses only.


I fully agree … there are plenty, sorry PLENTY of locally own restaurants/bars. No need to include chains places. And yes, I am grateful on how far we have come, but at the same time, Papa john’s for best Italian?? Really?? There is absolutely nothing Italian in Papa John’s..


There’s not much racial diversity apparent among the choices in the poll. Can we have a list of the names of the people involved in making the poll? Is there a specific vision for Birmingham being represented here?


In this case, I’m not just beating my same old “locals are better” drum. The Best of Birmingham implies that these shops and restaurants have something to do with Birmingham — that they represent the city somehow and are unique to us. Chain stores by definition don’t represent the cities where they do business. Of course it’s impossible to put together a list that pleases everyone, but it’s not impossible to at least be sure that list truly represents Birmingham.


Do we really want to be known as the city that listed a Mugshots burger over Chez Fonfon’s? Who put Bonefish Grill’s seafood over Hot & Hot’s? It’s bad enough when big box stores are listed in the first place, but it’s especially ridiculous when they bump off locally owned stores: Carrigan’s isn’t listed on Best Outdoor Dining, but Chuy’s is? Paramount isn’t mentioned under Best Sports Bar, but World of Beer is? Little Professor was left off the Best Bookstore list, but Barnes & Noble made it on? (Even if they had to pick a chain bookstore, at least Books A Million is locally owned.)


It’s helping no one to add big box stores to a Best of Birmingham list. World of Beer and Barnes & Noble don’t care if they get a little press in Birmingham, but making the list can be a big deal for local shops — the press coverage is likely to help more people hear about what they have to offer, and new customers are more likely to trust them because of  the vote of confidence from other readers.


I don’t personally have a dog in this fight really. Church Street Coffee & Books was left off the list for Best Coffee (although, thankfully, no chains are on that list), and we’re somewhat confusingly called Church Street Shop in the Bookstore category. (I guess you can vote for me as Best Birminghamian to follow on Twitter if you want to, haha.) But please do take a few minutes to vote for the places you love in Birmingham — and please be sure those places are local.


Voting takes a few minutes, but remember you can skip categories if you want to (I have nothing relevant to add to Best Golf Experience, for example, so I passed it up). I think voting is worth it, both as a no-cost way to promote our favorite stores, and as a way to spare our city the embarrassment of having some chain store listed as the best shop in town. Here’s a link to Best of Birmingham 2015, and voting ends this Friday.


Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist: Think Independent, Buy Local and Reclaim the American Dream, creator of 30 Days of Local Praise and co-founder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @crollwagen.


* I agreed with all the comments that appeared when I checked and voted on the site. If history is any indication, I’m guessing some dopes will come and add some stupid/racist/polarizing comments later that I won’t agree with.

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