I hear it all the time when talking about visiting Italy, or any other country in Europe: “We just loved this quaint little village. It had all these little shops and cafes; we could have spent hours there.” I’m sure if you travel, or you know people who do, you’ve heard the same thing (or perhaps a blog post waxing poetic about the simple village life).
I admit to loving those independent mom-and-pop stores, selling everything from used furniture and books to jewelry. There’s something about spending the afternoon meandering down a narrow street, popping into shops selling hand-crafted goods, before taking a seat at a restaurant or café to relax and people watch as they stroll across the piazza. It sounds like the perfect way to spend the afternoon in a European hamlet.
-BREAKING NEWS, AMERICA-
You don’t have to hop across the pond to find that “European Village” experience. You can often find that “quaint little village” near you, right here in the US. You probably drive by (or even through) them every day, but because they aren’t in 400-year-old stone buildings you may not notice them.
The Small Business Administration reports that as of 2010 there were 27.9 million small businesses in the US, all with less than 500 employees. 1.5 million of those businesses are retail and restaurants/bars/cafes with far fewer than 500 employees. The National Retail Federation says 94.5% of businesses have only one location.
You know what that means? Just over 5% of stores are big box stores. The small mom-and-pop stores of your European dreams (or your nostalgic recollection of Main Street USA), are closer than you think. You just need to find them.
Yesterday was Shop Small Saturday, an annual reminder that the small businesses in your neighborhood need and deserve your support. You’ll often find the owners on-site and willing to go out of their way to help you find what you need with their near encyclopedic knowledge of everything pertaining to their businesses.
Next time you’re heading out to a big box store, stop for a moment and ask yourself,”can I get that downtown?” I find an extra dollar or two is well worth knowing I’m helping a friend or neighbor rather than a billion-dollar corporation.
You may or may not live in an area that’s fortunate to have a thriving local business district. Frederick, Maryland is a great example (and the streets were full yesterday to prove the point!). But remember, the key to creating or keeping locally owned businesses booming is shopping in them. Even if you just buy one thing, one gift for someone special on your list, it goes a long way toward supporting the local shops and creating the “quaint downtown” of your dreams right in your own backyard.