The Power of a Greeting Card: Making Small Purchases at Small Shops

A couple of days ago, I met Kathleen from Pomegranate Books, and we talked — as I usually do before a signing — about the business of running a bookstore. I love being able to bond over this, to nerd out a little bit and see how other people have set up their shops, how they’ve creatively solved problems that I struggle with as well, how they arrange their shelf space and divide their categories and choose section headers (hey, I told you it was nerdy).


Of course, the conversation usually ends up at least touching on how hard it is to run an independent, and especially a bookstore, in the age of online buying and Amazon and ebooks, and in this part of our chat Kathleen said something that struck me: She said if everyone on her mailing list would just by a card once a month, she wouldn’t have to worry about expenses. She repeated it so she knew I heard it right: A CARD. Once a month.


I did the math on my own, and she’s right. That exact figure wouldn’t work out for every store (mailing lists are different, card prices are different, etc.), but the point is the same — small purchases matter. Small purchases add up. For many of us, it’s the small stuff that keeps us in business.


As consumers, we sometimes don’t bother with picking up a couple of little things from a locally owned store because we don’t think it makes a difference. That’s partly because corporate America has worked hard to convince us that our purchases don’t mean anything, and that’s a big lie that I think we’re starting to wake up to. But there’s also the fact that it seems trivial to buy just a greeting card, or just a soda from a locally owned grocery store, or just a light bulb from a mom-and-pop hardware store. Take it from me (and from Kathleen), that isn’t trivial. Of course we want you to buy our pricier stuff as well, but sometimes doing what you can and buying just a little really is enough. Sometimes it’s the difference between a shop owner making rent and having to borrow or even close. Sometimes it’s the light bulb purchases that keep the lights on.


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


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