This Independence Day, we celebrate a time when our nation decided to become its own, to govern itself and support its own future. And I figured there was no better time to talk about how we continue to support our own future, here in the towns we call home.
Those who know me are aware I love most anything local. Locally grown. Locally made. Locally sold. I try my damnedest to keep as much of my money close to home as possible.
It’s not that I think big business is bad…I don’t. (Goodness, Target gets plenty of my hard-earned cash!) The nation has built some amazing and important large corporations. They are a part of what makes this country sound.
But what makes this community sound?
While big businesses boast models with international customers, employing thousands of people and serving the masses, the businesses that build our hometowns boast plans that involve generations of local families.
The owners of many of these shops, stores, offices and restaurants come to work each day (often 7 days a week, not 5) to serve us and tool their trades. They know customers by name or face. They field their concerns directly. They participate in local events and lend a hand at nearby charities. They come out to support little league and the fireworks fund. They hire our teenagers giving them their first job opportunitites.
They show up.
We all love the Tri-Cities for the charm; the small town, close knit, historic ambience that is quintessential of the Fox River Valley. That’s not surprising. We are a nostalgic group – particularly Gen-Xers like me – and we relish anything that harkens back to our own childhood and feels the same as it did when we were younger and things were simpler.
But if we are to maintain that character in our communities, we have to support the businesses that help to form them…not with our words, but with cold, hard, cash.
It’s time for us to show up.
I spend a lot of time with local business owners. Some are customers of this family business, Shaw Media. Some are my friends and neighbors. For many, it’s been my job, and pleasure, to tell their stories. But here’s the real story:
It’s tougher than ever to compete when you are small. It’s challenging to continue to meet demands of a changing and growing community without the support of a large parent company. And it’s tougher still to hear how much your local business is beloved, over and over, while the register receipts tick in lower and lower.
I’ve seen it happen so many times before in these cities and others: a cherished local business shutters its doors and the townspeople cry out “no!”
But how often were you there?
You may happily put a sign on your lawn showing your support for the Blue Goose, but when did you last fill your fridge with its meats and produce? Did you buy your kid’s bike this season from All Spoked Up, or did you order it on Amazon.com? And when was the last time you stopped in Fresh Donuts?
I know, often it’s not convenient. Parking can be tight after work. Maybe you live west of Randall or closer to Kirk and you don’t think to go downtown. Maybe the smaller family owned shops don’t have the drive-thru service you relish. Perhaps you assume it will cost more once you get there.
But how much will it cost us when we lose our small businesses?
These owners and their local employees work hard to survive. They struggle to balance the demands of a viable business with the desire to serve their neighbors in these wonderful close-knit cities along the river that they, too, call home.
But while Sonita bakes the donuts and Paul stocks the grocery store and Mark is filling tires and checking gears, the community is our responsibility. It’s in our hands, to play or fold.
Which will we choose?