I’ve written before about my travels to Acadia National Park. It’s located on an island off the cost of Maine. That beautiful piece of land is called Mount Desert Island, and the community effectively banned all chain stores. Well, almost all. You can find a Subway. (Apparently they had to agree to some pretty strict rules to get in at that location.) But you won’t find a Wal-Mart. Or a McDonalds. Instead, every business is locally owned. It’s a beautiful thing. As a tourist, my favorite shops are the stores that sell art. Art on lobster claws, art on Christmas ornaments, art on canvas, art in the form of bath bombs or candles, art as hand-woven clothing and handmade jewelry. But there’s small businesses everywhere from the grocery stores to the whale watching boats.
Thinking about Maine’s small businesses made me think about how other local ventures have effected my life and how I make my money matter. And I realized it’s this: no matter how unbearable I think a place is, the small businesses give me an excuse to love it.
I used to live in North Carolina. I actually enjoyed my time there a lot, but there were times I’d worry about how dangerous my town could be. At first, I was afraid to explore at all. Then I heard about the angel store. They pretty much only sold angel figurines, and it boasted that it was the biggest one in the country. At the time, I was weirdly obsessed with angel figurines. (Even weirder because this was a while ago and I’m still in my 20s; I was young, and had a grandmother’s hobby.) I was so excited to check it out that I got over my fears, googled the directions, and went for it. I arrived at a single floor building. I noticed the restaurant next door as I walked into the modest sized building. I was floored. There were figurines of all different sizes and designs filling every nook and cranny of this place. All of them angels. Every time I thought I had found the last room another doorway appeared and presented me with another opportunity for awe and amazement.
I bought an angel that day. And many days thereafter. If I was feeling bummed out or just wanted to buy a birthday gift…to myself….I’d find myself wandering the saint-filled antechambers, selecting the perfect trophy to bring home. But winged souvenirs weren’t the only thing that small business gave me; it also gave me the motivation to be brave. It got me out my door and into my community. It forced me to get lost on the new streets that I called home, and encouraged me to venture a little further each time I went out. I discovered that daylight and confidence are a girl’s best friend when it comes to living your life in a town that can be dangerous. And I didn’t just live my life; I enjoyed it.
I also lived in a place that was the polar opposite: Eastern Idaho. The region I lived in was ridiculously safe, but no where near as diverse. I missed the culture I had known growing up in Pittsburgh and living in “dangerous” places like the one in North Carolina. I had some really amazing co-workers that made the whole thing bearable, but when I wasn’t at work I would get bored. And lonely.
I had a friend back in North Carolina who had gotten me into scrap booking. I’m not very crafty, and I hated how people would make their glorified photo albums all cutesy and kitschy and ruin their photos with stickers that would be outdated in five years. This friend was like me, and we really turned scrap booking into an attractive, but comparatively minimalist art form. So I’d get bored and lonely. And I’d catch up on scrap booking wishing she were there.
I ran out of paper or something and heard that there was a place in town that had a pretty good selection.
The selection wasn’t pretty good. It was amazing. They had paper and stickers and cutting tools and books and more paper and other things that I still couldn’t identify for you to this day. If you wanted to make a scrapbook page of your travel to each one of the fifty states, they had you covered. If you wanted to make a page about your step-brother coming to visit, they had you covered. If you wanted to make a page about your superhero alter-ego, they had you covered. I wasn’t even that heavily invested in the hobby. I don’t think I could put my hands on the singular book I’ve ever made if you asked me to today. But that store in Idaho helped ease my boredom. It was unique. It was interesting. It catered to the local clientele’s needs. And it made me think, “I wish my friend could see this.”
When I think of my hometown, I think of local food and stores in strip malls that sell sports memorabilia. But mostly I think of the South Side. In the daytime. At night, it’s a barhopping scene, but during the day there’s every type of kitschy shop you could hope for. There’s vintage clothing stores. There’s an amazing geeky comic book store. There’s a coffee shop that sells local artists’ work. There’s a bike repair shop. There’s a community.
And that’s a short list of what small businesses have given me. Community. Stimulation. Bravery. It’s enough to make me jealous of the people on Mount Desert Island who get to experience it every time they shop. For anything. Except Subway.
Have you ever had a personal adventure with a small business? Has it provided you with an unexpected experience?
*This post is sponsored by Make Your Money Matter, in association with PSCU, though all views are my own.*
I spent some time at Acadia National Park this summer. It’s stunning, and my only regret is not coming home with some sort of lobster keepsake!
It is so beautiful! And I have the exact opposite problem…I’ve got lobster paraphernalia everywhere! Even a buoy.
I have traveled to so many places in this country for work and it always shocks me how much of it looks the same. While I appreciate the convenience and price of chains, I always strive to seek out and support the smaller businesses. My criteria when visiting someone in a different town is to pick a non-chain restaurant for dinner.
I love that. My favorite restaurants have been non-chain. And discovering them in places that are foreign to you not only sounds delicious, but also gives you something to talk about when you get home. No one talks about that trip to McDonald’s while they were on vacation, but it’s always a story when you discover a local Ma and Pa diner.
Man, I miss the South Side now. I miss the days as a suburban youth going down to the Beehive and nursing a coffee and walking along Carson and thinking, this, yes this, is life. Like all suburban kids I have a longing to return to the city core that never was my home…I suppose, the same way that our parents longed to move out of the city.
I’m torn on the merits of small business over corporations, but have a video you might enjoy, on small business here in Phoenix. (Warning, it’s a long talk, over an hour…but I enjoyed it.)
First of all, you should consider taking up poetry. That was beautiful. The coffee shop I reference actually is The Beehive! I think they’ve probably expanded and then down-sized since you left, so if you walked in it’d probably be pretty familiar. And I know what you mean; I was one of those suburban kids who the city called to. I listened and uprooted. Would probably stay here forever if it weren’t for the income tax and schools.
I’ll have to listen to that video on my commute one day. Sounds super interesting.
That was so nice of you to say. Whatever it was I wrote, it was accidental. 🙂
I’m so happy we were both talking about the Beehive. I’ll have to go back and check it out when I visit next year. Good on you for accepting the call and moving to the city. Maybe the wife and I will join you in the burgh someday, yinzer sister.
So glad we connected.
Me, too! And it’s a really great experience. I’d probably recommend it for childless younger adults and older people who maybe can’t drive. It’s one of the few places in Allegheny county where you can get around without a car. But the schools, oh, the schools. I desperately wish they were better.
I like smaller stores, but I realized that I tend to stick to the chains when I am just passing through a new place – there’s the consistency factor. When I am somewhere for vacation, however, I seek out the local places (or at least local chains) for food and souvenirs.
I know those tourists looking for souvenirs are a huge part of the economy on Mount Desert Island. And I think that’s part of the reason they don’t allow larger chains: with the economy so dependent on outside money, it’s far better for local businesses owned by local people to reap all those benefits…those profits have to last through the off-season.
Small mom/pop biz are my favourite. That said, we LOVE Chipotle, and there are tons of other famous American chains we’ve also tried while in the States. It’s definitely been a mix of both for us (but elsewhere in the world it’s mostly about sticking to local specialties!)
That’s so interesting to bring a global perspective into it! I remember being in Germany and seeing an Aldi’s, but I think that was the only familiar name I experience while there. Have you seen any other parts of the world that have as many big chains as we do? (Not indicating that’s a good thing.)
I wonder what it would be like to live in a place where all businesses are locally owned, where one knows everyone. It’s the kind of peaceful environment that I only get to see in oldies movies nowadays. Sorry but I am being sentimental here.
It is kind of nostalgic!
Maine is beautiful! I was there was I was 10 and need to get back there with my family. Local restaurant are the best! .
Oh, it’s absolutely gorgeous. And I’m with you…when the restaurant is locally owned the food is generally fresher and the people back doing the cooking are doing it because they were good enough to want to open a freaking restaurant. Far and away better.
Yeah, this past Friday, in St. Joseph, Michigan. My parents were closing on a vacation home there and it’s a quaint small town right on Lake Michigan. My sister wanted some fudge from the South Bend Chocolate company and I was quite surprised by the atmosphere. It reminded me of a 1950s malt shop, where teens and locals could meet for shakes, ice cream and candy.
I got to talking to the locals about seeing Lake Michigan from the other side. They told me about their incredible sunsets and I told them about my awesome sunrises. I can’t wait to visit in the summer to go to the beach and visit the many vineyards that are in the surrounding area.
Oh, no way! I stayed about half an hour up the lake last summer with some friends. If you have a chance to go to Clementines or check out Biddy Murphy, JUST DO IT! I’ve heard of South Bend Chocolate Factory, too! I’m so excited for your to-be experiences…it’s a beautiful region with some really great things to do in all the little shoreside localities.
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