Giving Thanks for Small Businesses

I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family near the Oregon coast this past weekend, and spent nearly the whole day Saturday in blissful cooking mode. It was lovely, but it's a remote area where the only nearby business is a gas station/convenience store on a highway between Portland and the coast. If one should need a quick shopping trip, the choices, to put it mildly, are limited.

I came back to my urban neighborhood — it's one of those “up-and-coming” neighborhoods that is only very, very slowly coming up — on Tuesday, and spent the afternoon running errands on my bike. Within a couple of hours, I stopped at five businesses:

  • The bank where the tellers know me so well they get out the basket of lollipops for my boys when we open the door.
  • A neighborhood farmer's market, where my favorite bagel-maker told me he was following me on Instagram — and gave me a great deal on bagels.
  • A small neighborhood post office, where the clerk forgave my entrance a minute past five, and sent my package to my husband in Kuwait.
  • The buying club where I get much of my groceries, where the amazingly energetic owner and I chatted about the change in seasons as seen through local produce availability.
  • The grocery co-op that carries everything from bulk nutritional yeast at the best price in town, to more different varieties of locally-made (and delicious!) ice cream, beer and bread than I would have ever thought possible a decade ago.

Yesterday, I skipped the long lines at the grocery stores, and only walked down to the corner spice shop. Yes: there is a spice shop on my corner, where an employee from a great, recently-closed local business called “Limbo” (fresh produce, herbs, spices, teas, and such) went out on a considerable limb to start his own business. He sells my favorite local honey and coffee beans, plus just about every spice, herb and tea you can imagine. There's nothing like spending your money at a business where the owner thanks you every time you spend money there — and truly seems grateful, just because you open the door.

The local spice shop
The local spice shop

As several of my good friends have opened businesses in the last few years, and I myself have experience as one of the first few hires at three different start-up companies, I know how stressful and risky and how much work it is to start and run a small business.

I've watched as the business owners on the corner with the spice shop, one by one by one, have leased and built out their baby retail outlets. I'm not just interested because it helps my property value (I think the Starbucks on another corner probably had the biggest impact, to be honest), but because it makes life so much easier for me. Being able to run down to the corner for a bag of coffee beans or a refill of cinnamon really changes my life, as a military wife; with my husband in Kuwait, as he has been for most of the past year-and-a-half, it's a major ordeal to get three little boys out of the door, let alone halfway across town to buy these little necessities. It's a relief if those items are now sold a few doors away — I feel it's safe to leave my oldest in charge of his brothers if I don't even have to cross a street.

I honor the hard work and financial risk taken by small business owners, and am willing to pay a little more or make impulse purchases, even, if that means the stores and cafes will be around for the long haul. As the Saturday after Thanksgiving is, now, being celebrated as “Small Business Saturday” — it's top of mind and near to my heart. If I had a wish for the small business owners in my neighborhood and yours, it would be that their neighbors would show their appreciation for their dedication, passion and scary risk-taking to shop with them instead of larger companies. It's good for you, too, through convenience, travel costs and home value; and, I'd argue, for the health of your community and your long-term well-being.

Note: As most of you know, J.D. is a big fan of buying local too. In fact, all of us at GRS are enthusiastic supporters of small, local businesses.

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krantcents
krantcents
8 years ago

I think you are describing personal relationships. I value those the most with friends and family.

Dogs or Dollars
Dogs or Dollars
8 years ago
Reply to  krantcents

Who doesn’t value those most with friends and family? But if there is a smidgen of personal relationship with where you are buying your bulk spices, all the better. Big or small, personal relationships enrich life.

It’s beyond just personal relationships too. It’s creating thriving local communities, where you can run down the street for a necessity as opposed to having to make the haul across town. Where the clerk knows you have kids waiting for you at home, so you want to be brief.

There’s a whole lotta intangible value in that.

Jen
Jen
8 years ago
Reply to  krantcents

I’m sure she values her personal familial relationships over these as well. But does that mean you can or should only have a pleasant and supportive relationship with a small set of people or relatives?

Odd.

Kristina
Kristina
8 years ago

I love this concept, as convenient as it is to be able to get everything from one spot (a large grocery chain), the freshness, taste, and local impact of buying from small businesses win my dollars almost every time.

JohnnyFit
JohnnyFit
8 years ago

Thanks for this article Sarah! I support small businesses every chance I have when given a choice. I also suspect that we are nearly neighbors. I too live a block away from that spice store (which I have purchased from and supported), and the Starbucks down the street!

I feel really fortunate that we live in an area where small business can flourish, and I’m thankful for that!

Ru
Ru
8 years ago

I love going to new, independent places- coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques- but I have a really hard time convincing friends. Whenever we go out for a coffee and a cake it’s always to one of the chain places (Café Nero, Starbucks, Pret, Paul). “Shall we go out for dinner?” is always met with “oh, let’s go to Nandos, or Pizza Express, or Gourmet Burger Kitchen”. The buy all of their clothes from chain stores too. There’s no excuse. We study in London- a fantastic capital with an abundance of wonderful independent permanent and pop-up shops and restaurants. I don’t know… Read more »

Beth
Beth
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

I try to shop small business when I can, but clothing is one area where I fall flat. Independent clothing stores in my city and surrounding area only cater to kids or middle aged and up — or to a particular purpose like outdoor gear or alternative lifestyle.

If there was an independent business who sold casual and career clothing for 30-somethings, I’d be all over it 🙂

Beth
Beth
8 years ago

I’ve worked for small businesses of all sorts and enjoyed the good customer/business relationship from the other side too. I loved being seen as a person, not a nameless clerk 🙂

My local chain grocery store just put in a natural food section, but I still prefer to go to the independent store because the service is better. I doubt any grocery store clerk could tell me how to cook buckwheat groats or how to bake gluten-free.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago

I notice that you did not stop by the local car mechanic who charges those who don ‘t know much about cars for parts and labor that he never actually replaces or performs. Nor did you stop by the local cabinet maker who built your kitchen counter 2 inches too long to fit in your house and refuses to replace it because he can’t afford to take the loss. Or the local chicken place where you got food poisoning that one time. Small is not synonymous with good. They are two different things. You can be small and good or… Read more »

Beth
Beth
8 years ago

I don’t think it has to be either/or. I’ve had some bad experience in small businesses too, and that more personal atmosphere makes it even harder to go back.

I like small businesses, but I don’t support them just because they’re small. The ones I frequent have an edge — like better service, more expertise or more selection (like specialty goods) than larger retailers. I think big and small businesses challenge each other to be better, so they’re both necessary.

I say do whatever works best for the products and services you want 🙂

Barb
Barb
8 years ago

Ill go at it from the other perspective. I occasionlly drive farther to use small businesses and I do it willingly. I get better service, and comparable prices. this includes independent coffee shops, grocers, fabric stores, garage mechanics (cheaper than the dealer by far), and hardware. You can in fact find small business in every area.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago

My comment was not supposed to be anti-small-business, but pro-good-business. I will shop at a good, small business no problem, but I won’t shop at a small business just because it’s small, or a local business just because it’s local. I will shop at them because they offer me good products and good service at fair prices. I do the same with big businesses — I want good products and good service at fair prices. I don’t care how many employees you have, that’s not how I judge your business.

Becky+P.
Becky+P.
8 years ago

This is so true. We first moved to Poland in 1994 and there were so many tiny little hole in the wall grocery stores. The food wasn’t necessarily fresh, but they moaned and groaned when eventually we got in bigger, chain stores. I was delighted. Some try to convince me that the food at this big stores is bad, while the small business is better. I can’t really comprehend that, since the bigger business is turning over a lot more product daily. So, of course, many of the smaller ones have gone out of business, and I say, “Goodbye” to… Read more »

Kevin+M
Kevin+M
8 years ago

No offense Tyler but you sound grumpy. The post was meant to celebrate small business and the risks the owners take to open. Yes there are bad ones out there but the author is blogging about some of her favorites since Small Business Saturday is this weekend. I do what I do because I believe small business is the engine that drives our economy. And I want to help support them in what they do. I don’t argue that big business is important in some areas, but it is always smaller businesses that create the most jobs. http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/are-medium-sized-businesses-the-job-creators/ I think… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

I like Penzey’s. Even though it’s a chain. Of course, it didn’t start out as a chain.

Pamela
Pamela
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Neither did Bank of America. It was started by an Italian immigrant looking to help people hurt by the San Francisco earthquake.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago

My goodness, you really do disagree with *everything*, don’t you? Here’s a list of really, really strong reasons why we should all support local/small businesses: http://www.newrules.org/retail/why-support-locally-owned-businesses It’s not all about the quality of service you’re getting. Obviously, if a small business owner treats you poorly, you don’t go back. But since most small stores are perfectly fine – and MANY are able to offer more personal service than big box stores – I don’t see why you wouldn’t try to support them, thereby supporting your community. Even if I have to pay a little more (as is often the case),… Read more »

Michael in Missouri
Michael in Missouri
8 years ago

I’m with Tyler on this one. I did graduate work at a major university in the southeast. There was a bookstore in town that was spoken of by the locals as a hallowed, treasured muse to generations of budding writers and scholars. The best bookstore in Dixie, I was told. I went there eagerly, only to discover the worst bookstore I have ever stepped in anywhere in my life–and I am the type that can always find a book to buy anywhere. The selection was really terrible, the arrangement bizarre, the space unwelcoming. Once I tried to special order a… Read more »

BD
BD
8 years ago

Tyler, I agree with you 100%.
Well said!

(Not to mention the fact that small businesses often do NOT offer any benefits to their employees, and they pay them minimum wage, or close to it. I’ve worked for no less than 7 small businesses, plus have had quite a few friends working for small businesses, and this is the case most of the time. I got treated better working for Home Depot than I did for most of the small businesses I worked for).

Laura
Laura
8 years ago

I support many of the same businesses as you, it seems. (Read many of your articles and seems we are in the same neighborhood as I can walk to that same spice shop). It is really nice to support local when possible and am thankful to live in an area where doing so is so easy.

Barb
Barb
8 years ago

I love this article, and do try to shop small business as often as possible. I live in a subrub and the small business is not necessarily on my streetcorner-it may be a further drive than the regular store. Occaisionally there is a small cost differential, but worth it for me. And unlike tylers commet above, my independent small gas station is reliable,effecient and cost efective

MDAccount
MDAccount
8 years ago

On an immediate and practical note, Saturday is Small Business Saturday, when people are urged to shop at small local businesses.

If you own an American Express card, you can register it here — https://sync.americanexpress.com/sbs2011 — and when you use it at a small business on Saturday, and spend $25 or more, American Express will give you a $25 statement credit.

I’m not trying to get a debate started about the evils of credit cards or Amex; I just thought those with an American Express card might like one more reason to try a small local shop this Saturday.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  MDAccount

I don’t know if this is the case in the US, but Amex has the highest merchant fees of all the credit cards here in Canada. You won’t find them in many small businesses as a result — it’s too expensive when most people carry Visa or Mastercard anyway.

Seems odd to me that Amex is pushing to promote small businesses. I’m curious — are they a better deal for merchants in the U.S.?

Alex
Alex
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I know of a lot of small businesses in my area which are participating in the Small Business Saturday, and I certainly will be going out to claim that $25 credit. Amex does seem to be a more premier brand and probably charges higher fees to stores, but I don’t know the numbers so I wouldn’t be able to say definitively. They are offered in a lot of small business restaurants where I live though.

LisaD
LisaD
8 years ago
Reply to  Alex

I’ll bet you this is why Amex is promoting this idea – might help to get them more business. I use Amex because their customer service is much better – when my wallet got stolen on a holiday when everything was closed, Amex wired me money for no fee so I could get home, and my other credit card…. offered to send me a replacement card in 10 days. That said, I often try to pay independent business in cash when I can so there are no fees.

Beth R
Beth R
8 years ago

But! What is the NAME of the small spice shop? I was distraught when Limbo closed, and I’d love to shop at someplace similar!

Rob B
Rob B
8 years ago
Reply to  Beth R

Stone Cottage, 3844 SE Gladstone.

http://www.herbsspicesteas.com/

Matt, Tao of Unfear
Matt, Tao of Unfear
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Gilbert

I’ll have to check that out. I’m both a tea and a cooking fiend, and both my spice and tea collections are getting low.

Of course, that’s a little further out for me. Living out in a small town, while you almost can’t help but shop at small businesses, provides less variety.

You do get to chat up a lot of the farmers, though. 🙂

Jadzia
Jadzia
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Gilbert

Oh, that is in my old neighborhood! I lived right on Gladstone about 10 years ago–had my first baby there. It looks like the neighborhood has REALLY improved. When I lived there, my then-husband, a criminal defense lawyer, was constantly forbidding me to go various places in the neighborhood because they employed his clients.

Deb
Deb
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Gilbert

Oh THANK YOU for the info on the new spice shop! I was stricken when Limbo closed, it was one of my favorite haunts and because of them, I added all sorts of interesting spices to my cooking arsenal! We supported our local small business sporting goods store today! They’re having a terrific sale, and they’re a family run business with long time employees that are appreciated and well cared for. We also hit our local feed store – another awesome place that also stocks amazing heirloom seeds & gardening supplies. I appreciate the great customer service and personal relationships… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan
8 years ago

I really wish there were more independent stores around where I live. There’s one baker, butcher and fruit market left, but all the others have been bought out by chains.

Marcella
Marcella
8 years ago

I’m slightly with Tyler on this one. I love to support small, local businesses too, but these still need to be providing value. By that I mean the confluence of price, service and goods must be adequate. You don’t get a pass for pricey goods and/or crappy service just ’cause you’re the little guy. Obviously the businesses Sarah is patronising are giving her the value she needs – great personalised service and interesting items at a reasonable price. This is good business. I feel sometimes big business is unfairly demonised. These big chains do employ lots of people, often offer… Read more »

A-L
A-L
8 years ago

Where I live there’s an assortment of small businesses. I patronize the restaurants & coffee shops frequently. But I find that other types of small, independent stores just don’t come close on price. A small markup, I understand. But clothing shops where the jeans cost $150? Where they sell a container of tea that I can get at the grocery store for one third of the price? Or design stores where they only carry high-end finishes…gorgeous, unique, but well out of my price range? When I shop I like to hit the sales. Like when the price is 50% off… Read more »

Matt, Tao of Unfear
Matt, Tao of Unfear
8 years ago

I think my favorite part of visiting New Orleans was being able to eat a all of the great local restaurants. I think I SAW one chain restaurant the whole time I was there, and couldn’t be happier with that fact.

Of course, if you’re spending a large part of your time in the French Quarter, then most of the small businesses are hocking touristy crap, which makes it tough to support the small businesses there… 🙁

Laura
Laura
8 years ago

I’m with Tyler in that I don’t think a small business is automatically good and a big business is automatically bad. However, some of the big retailers are damaging society to the point where my desire for inexpensive goods has to be balanced against my desire to support sustainable practices:

http://www.thebostonchannel.com/news/29831336/detail.html

Greed is the root of all evil.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

I completely agree. I don’t even see how this is an argument. Haven’t the consequences of big-box stores been well-documented? Hasn’t it been proven that when any big chain like Wal-Mart moves in, unemployment rises, average wages decrease, etc etc ad nauseum?

Pretty much the only argument offered by these stores when they want to locate in a new neighborhood is “we’re cheap and convenient!” I would think that people could stand to buy a little less and walk around a little more in order to protect their communities.

And yet…..

BD
BD
8 years ago
Reply to  imelda

I sure would like to know who proved that. I lived in a small central Florida town for 3 years. Most of the small businesses paid their employees minimum wage, and gave them no benefits. When the big Walmart moved to town, many people who couldn’t find jobs, got a job at Walmart, and those who were working for small businesses for minimum wage and no benefits were able to get a job at Walmart as well, for *more* than minimum wage, AND they got benefits too! I personally have worked for no more than 7 small businesses in my… Read more »

imelda
imelda
8 years ago

This is a really lovely post! Even though I don’t understand why American Express is sponsoring it, I love the idea of Small Business Saturday.

Small businesses – and the neighorhoods rich with them – have so much more character, are much more interesting and culturally blessed. Someone above mentioned this about New Orleans, which is so true.

KS
KS
8 years ago

When I moved to Ireland 4+ months ago, people told/warned me that relationships are everything here, even with businesses. This has turned out to be very true. I didn’t realize my local shoe repair guy didn’t take plastic; he waited till the next day for his payment when I could run by with cash because he knew he would see me again. The organic fruit and veg guy is happy to put aside things for me because he knows I’m a regular. But there’s small business and there’s small business. The flaky one-man-shop contractor whom we gave thousands of dollars… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago

This type of reasoning has made me feel guilty in the past for not patronizing some local businesses; yet, I still don’t always shop at them. For instance, there is a local toy store in a strip mall near my parent’s house. They are nice, but their prices are routinely 40% more than Amazon. I know all the reasons why they have to charge more, but it is still hard for me to want to pay that much more. That is money out of my pocket for some ideal of a small business that I’m not sure I believe in.… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I have this issue with bookstores. When I buy books or DVDs, they’re usually for gifts and it’s cheaper to get them through Amazon. (They’ll ship across the country for free!) Besides, I have yet to find a “small business” that sells digital music or e-books. 🙁

Most of the time, I either hit the library or the used bookstore.

shash
shash
8 years ago

About those high prices at the small businesses (re expensive jeans, etc.). . . it can cost a lot to produce something. Walmart, Target, big stores are great at rolling back the prices, but those prices are often a cost to human beings. The clothing at these stores and many, many others is being made by factory workers in China, Indonesia, etc. that work over 20 hours a day, sleep at their machines, get harassed into fast production times and often have their minimum “living” wage pay held back. The work force is young women–when you get too old you… Read more »

Anne
Anne
8 years ago
Reply to  shash

Not that I don’t support the issue. But I don’t believe shopping locally will necessarily help that. Most of the clothes in my local boutiques are made in the same countries (and probably under the same conditions) as larger chain stores.

shash
shash
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne

It’s true– shopping local may not help with that depending on where you are. However, shopping a small business could. There are more ways to shop and support small business– online at Etsy, for instance. Independent designers do sell there. You never know– one of those could be in your backyard, but selling only online. One of the reasons I posted is that I feel overall, we tend to lose sight of how much cost is involved in making a product, whatever product. I think the low prices and convenience of the big stores make it so easy to grab… Read more »

Pamela
Pamela
8 years ago

Local business owners here in Ithaca offer a Local Lover Challenge during the holiday season. They share in the cost of publicity and promotion.

Participating businesses stamp cards for visitors. When you collect 6 stamps, you’re entered in a drawing to win prizes from local businesses.

It’s fun to be reminded of businesses I don’t usually visit. And the possibility of winning a prize is an extra little treat.

Best of all, about 45% of the money spent in local businesses stays local while only 15% of that spent at chains stays local.

Grace
Grace
8 years ago

The small businesses I end up supporting tend to be restaurants. I live in Phoenix, aka chain store/restaurant capital. The local restaurants I favor tend to be a cut above in terms of quality and sometimes service, all at a reasonable price. I do not return to any restaurants that have bad food, outrageous prices, and/or very poor service. I’m skeptical of going to local stores for everyday items since the ones I’ve seen have higher prices and limited selection. I’d prefer to not have to stop by many stores on the way home from work.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

One of the reasons why I insisted on living within the city limits and “close in” (Portland) is so that I could support local businesses. Part of my budget goes to local business: co-ops, independent stores, cafes, restaurants etc. For me quality comes first, but supporting local is a big priority for me as well.

Krishanu
Krishanu
8 years ago

I am sort of in a quandary. I love to support small businesses in my locality, but I have seldom seen them match (let alone surpass) the prices offered by the big box stores (let alone the online behemoths). I find it okay to pay $22 at a local store, when the big box store is selling the same article for $20, but when you go higher – hundreds, thousands – the difference become prohibitive for me.

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