Why I’m Thankful for Small Shops

I do a lot of writing about the benefits of locally owned stores. I write that I appreciate the selection that’s curated by people who are experts in their fields. I write that more tax money goes back into our local economies when we shop locally instead of buying from corporate stores. I write that I think decision making should be decentralized, and shopping small brings more voices into the conversation. All this is true, and it’s part of why I promote shopping locally.

These are good things — good reasons to shop locally. But they’re not the real reasons I’m so thankful.

I’m thankful because of Charlie and Jenny, the two owners at Jonathan Benton, Bookseller who believed in my leadership, convinced me I could manage their shop, and taught me how to run a store while I was still wearing thrift store t-shirts to work every day and had zero clue what a P&L statement was.

I’m thankful for Buddy, my first manager at that shop, whose passed on a fierce passion for stories and for his staff.

I’m thankful to my coworkers from Jonathan Benton and The Daily Cup, who rallied around me when I opened Church Street Coffee & Books — they helped me unpack and shelve every bit of our initial inventory at Church Street without being paid, and every one of them showed up on the first day we were open to support us again.

I’m thankful for Bobby, who I met when I was working at a bookstore and he was working at a coffee shop, and who went on to edit The Localist book for me.

I’m thankful for Michelle, who worked with me at Church Street and who was later the person who hinted to my now-husband that he should ask me out for the first time.

I’m thankful for the bartenders and baristas all over town who I barely knew, but who contributed to my Kickstarter anyway, making my dream of publishing a book a reality.

I’m thankful to Jason, my current boss at local web development shop Infomedia, who gives me the freedom to pursue my own projects and whose first question when I have a crazy new idea is always, “How can we help?”

I’m thankful to Kelly, who met me when I was behind the bar at Church Street, hired me to work at her small business after I came home from my book tour and needed a place to land for a few months, and who’s become one of my very best friends and business advisors.

I support small businesses because they’ve supported me — and my story is not unique. You can have a good boss and good coworkers anywhere; I’ve certainly had some great ones, and they weren’t all at local businesses. But when I trace the trajectory of career and identify the people who’ve had a huge impact in my life, so many of them came through local shops, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Local shops live and die by their communities, and that means a local business is already primed to become more than just a store. The owners of the small businesses where I worked took a special interest in me, and that made me better. I tried to do the same for the people who worked for me. Yes, this is good for our economy. It’s good for our cities and towns. But it’s more than that — it’s good for our hearts, and our minds, and our souls. I know that sounds cheesy, but I think it’s true. It’s why I’m always fighting for small shops — and why I’m so thankful for them.

Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist, a book about buying from locally owned stores and cofounder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Currently, she works as Communications Director at Infomedia, a web development company in Birmingham, Alabama. Find her as @crollwagen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and most other social media platforms.

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