Living in any place, a big city or a small town, there are numerous possibility to exchange ideas, provide goods and services, or build relationships. I recently moved from Brooklyn, New York to Macomb, Illinois, from a community of seven million to one of 20,000. In Brooklyn I lived in a neighborhood called Park Slope, where there were businesses that would struggle, and eventually close their doors. There seemed to be another replacing it in a few weeks. My choice of patronizing a business or cultural institution did not appear to have an impact on the business develop in the area. I did not consider my choice to patronize a business or not could keep my neighborhood vibrant.
Moving to a smaller community I missed the variety of choices for goods and services I had enjoyed in Brooklyn: having sushi for dinner, finding a variety of brands in clothing or food, and just about any service you could imagine. I began to speak with business owners in Macomb , asking if they would be interested in expanding their product offerings or services. These conversations were, at first, frustrating, but they soon became informative. I learned about the various struggles these local businesses face. And understanding the issues of their business practices brought me to the realization that I could, in some small ways, help. Here are a few ideas that came from those conversations with local business and cultural institutions:
(I define “local” as a business owned and managed by people who live in the community)
1. Give them your business: This is the most obvious but it is often hard to practice. Prices might be a bit higher, parking might be more difficult, or the location not convenient. The trade off is that these dollars will go back into the community.
2. Build a relationship with the owners. Talk to them, give them feedback. I enjoy going into a business where I know someone. I was able to do this in Brooklyn as well as in Macomb and there is nothing like getting a hello by name when you walk in the door of business.
3. If you have a relationship you are more likely to influence. Owners that value your business will often value your feedback.
4. Tell your friends about the businesses that you use and why. Small business typically do not have time or resources to market their products or services. Many people make choices based on a recommendation and this is a very effective marketing tool that local businesses benefit from.
5. Get involved. Giving your time or professional experience could be the difference between a cultural institution or community initiative being successful. An enthusiastic group of volunteers can draw more help, donations, grants and create a wonderful community environment. It is a great way to meet people with similar interests and concerns.
Please add your ideas of how to keep a community vibrant.