I didn’t grow up in small towns. The naval bases my father was stationed at were linked to fairly large cities. And then he retired to Fayetteville, which together with Ft. Bragg makes it one of this state’s larger metro areas.
But when I started college at Appalachian State University way back when, what made the most immediate impression upon my 18-year-old brain was how small Boone was and how geographically compact my world suddenly became. I bought coffee, donuts and newspapers at a local drugstore breakfast counter near campus, perused music and bought albums at the locally owned downtown record store, walked to the polling station when I voted in my first presidential election in 1980, and shopped at the local hardware store and the small grocery chain a few blocks from my dorm. That first year in Boone I did not own a car, but I was able to walk and get everything I needed to live. It was a fantastic, liberating lifestyle.
And though I had worked at the Fayetteville Observer when in high school, I had no idea what community journalism was all about. Once in Boone, I was awestruck by the popularity of the Watauga Democrat, the community paper that was dropped off at my dorm. Kids from Watauga County and the people in the local businesses I frequented around town devoured its contents. Owned by Rachel Rivers Coffey at the time I was at ASU, the Democrat was a fantastic example of what an old-school local newspaper was all about — celebrating and reporting on the community, with an emphasis on all things local.
Those words, “community” and “local,” are really what this “Shop Small Saturday” is all about. It’s about supporting small businesses that provide the character and the economic backbone of all of our towns here in Western North Carolina. They don’t just provide jobs and put dollars into the local economy. They do much more.
I’ve been at Haywood Builders Supply a couple of times over the last month to get building materials. In both instances, I witnessed representatives of different community nonprofits search out General Manager Danny Wingate looking for donations for different causes. And, as expected, he helped out.
And that’s what small, privately-owned businesses do. Whether it’s the local credit union or the art gallery, the restaurant, tire store or the bookshop, these small businesses help make our communities stronger in ways that most customers never see. They and their employees support human service nonprofits, youth organizations, and churches. There is an intricate, strong web of social connections that make small towns special, and the local businesses play a crucial role in building, maintaining and supporting that network.
Also, those businesses sell unique, one-of-a-kind gifts you won’t find at your giant retailers. I mean, really, does your kid need another electronic gadget?
Yes, most of us will shop at big boxes over the holidays and we will pay our respects via credit cards to the online behemoths like Amazon. But spend some of your hard-earned dollars with those small businesses that are part and parcel of the social fabric that makes each of our communities unique. In fact, make it a tradition to support them, not just this Saturday but throughout the year.