When I need groceries or something from the hardware store, my first choice for shopping is one of the small towns near my home. Why? Because supporting small town business matters to me.
I support those businesses because I know what it's like to live in a small town with no options available.
Ten years ago, my husband and I moved to his hometown of Broadview, Montana (pop 250). At the time the gas station, the town's only retail option, was shut down. Need a gallon of milk or gas? The closest option was thirty miles round trip. Need something more substantial than gas station offerings? Plan on 70 miles round trip.
Two years after moving to Broadview, my husband bought the closed down gas station for the shop space it offered for his scale business. Seeing a huge need for services in the town we called home, we then went through the enormous process of reopening the gas station. A year after purchasing the gas station, that little town once again had a service station and a convenience store stocked with snacks, groceries, and even basic plumbing and hardware supplies.
It wasn't easy. We faced roadblocks all along the way, from financing, to finding vendors that could supply products to us for reasonable prices. It didn't make us rich. We did it because we knew that providing products and services in our then hometown made the town a better place to live. When we moved to Minnesota, we sold the business to capable hands so it could continue to serve that community.
And now in Minnesota, we continue to support small town business for many reasons.
1. Convenience. Shopping in a small town store is fast and easy. Even on the busiest days, traffic and parking is never an issue. I never lose my vehicle in the parking lot. There are no crowds or long lines.
When shopping at a mega store, more than once I lived without an item on my list because it was too much hassle to back track a quarter mile to the other end of the store with my kids in tow. In small town stores, though, it's a quick zip down a few aisles. And better yet, in a small town grocery, on more than one occasion a store employee volunteered to grab an item for me when I had that "Oh no I forgot something" moment in the checkout line.
Even on days that I make a trip to Rochester for errands, I often stop in Chatfield on the way through to buy my groceries at the hometown grocery store. It's a more peaceful, easier shopping experience to get all my groceries in the small store. And it's faster. I can fly through the store without hassle, easily get help when I need it, and get out quickly. If I worked a 9-5 in Rochester, I'd do the same. It's easy to stop at the small local grocery for last minute items on the way home. During the 5 o'clock rush hour, it simply isn't a huge rush in a small town.
2. Friendly Service. The adage "Know Your Customer" means different things depending on where you shop. The big box stores "know" me in a demographic sense (age, gender, family size, etc. as their computers track my transaction history and cross reference my credit card numbers). That kind of "knowing" I find a little disconcerting. On the other hand, my small town grocer knows my friends, family, and neighbors on a first name basis.
I love small town shopping where people genuinely care about helping their customers, who are in fact, their neighbors. I love that when I walk into the local hardware store, in no time flat an employee is there to say, "Can I help you find something?". That allows me to get what I need before my kids dump out and rearrange all of the store's plumbing fittings.
Because I see the same familiar faces time and time again, I know the people in the local grocery store can do speedy checkouts, bag my groceries without smashing my food, and then have the groceries loaded into my van before I even get my kids buckled in their car seats.
And when I leave the grocery store in a small town, the employees say "thank you for shopping here" and they mean it. The truth is, I'm thankful, too. I'm usually juggling 2-4 worn out kids and a cart heaping with groceries. The small town store's extra courtesy of loading groceries into my vehicle makes my life so much easier.
3. We CAN Afford Local. My family is cost-conscious on our spending. We are a family of six who chooses to live on my husband's income while I'm at home with our young children. That said, we make the choice to shop in the small town stores. I keep a pretty close eye on prices, and I generally don't find a huge difference in prices between big mega stores and small town stores. The smaller stores also have better sales, so sometimes prices are significantly cheaper. If I do spend a few extra dollars buying small town groceries, I would rather put it into the local economy than burn it up in gas and time on the road.
Shopping in small town stores also reduces my over-all dollars spent. By getting most of our groceries in St. Charles, Chatfield, or Rushford, I can often go a full month before I need to head to the "big cities" of Rochester or Winona to get other items on my list. Fewer trips to mega stores means less time circling large glittering aisles, and fewer impulse items end up in my cart. Shopping local helps keep our purchases to the basics, saving us money.
4. Small Town Matters. More than anything, I want the small communities in this area to thrive. Small businesses create thriving communities. I don't want another "oh what a shame that we don't have a grocery store/hardware store anymore" to happen in my neck of the woods. It's much easier to keep a business around than to try to bring back one that closed it's doors. I know that first hand. It's small town stores that give a community identity and help make a place feel like a "real town," rather than just a cluster of houses where commuters sleep.
I like seeing familiar faces while I run errands, I like friendly service in stores, and I like shopping to be a simple convenience in a peaceful setting. That's why I chose to live here. I support small town businesses because I want them to be here in the future.
- Kathy and her husband and four children live on North Prairie north of Peterson.