The SECRET to our Success

Small businesses are more than the backbone of the national economy; they’re the lifeblood of the local community.

Sometimes the goods and services may cost a little more, take a little longer, come in slightly smaller portions, or without the bells and whistles; but often the craft and quality is far superior at the corner donut shop, or toymaker, or jeweler, than at their super-sized rivals. These small businesses offer attention to detail and a personal touch that is rarely, if ever, found at a chain or on Amazon.

This isn’t to say chains are evil and people who work at them are unworthy—far from it. But every dollar spent at a chain takes precious cents from the people who live and work in your community.

As technology consumes us, converting treasured experiences into points and clicks, and Corporate America gobbles up Main Street with higher tax rates and the seductive promises of convenience and standardization and 90-day risk-free trials, we would do well to recall that something priceless is also often freely distributed by small businesses—a relationship. Of all the gifts we buy in this, the season of over-consumption and gluttony, friendship, one of the greatest gifts of all, cannot be boxed or sold. That’s what’s offered by the local bakers, dressmakers, farmers and, yes, altweekly publishers who every day chase the dream behind their own shingle or booth. They won’t come over and fix the sink for you (unless they happen to be a plumber), but they will be invested in your personal success and happiness in a way that no conglomerate ever will.

Every other month or so for nearly five years, I have settled into the same chair for a wash, cut and style. In that time, I’ve come to know Pat and she to know me far beyond the ‘what side do you part on’ chitchat. She knows where all my cowlicks are, and also what matters most in my life. We’ve shared joys and sorrows, struggles and triumphs.

True, ours is a business relationship: She cuts, I pay. We live in different parts of town, come from different generations and states and have not a single friend in common, but she’s not just the person who trims my split ends and suggests a new conditioner; through these regular exchanges, she has become my friend. If a tragedy were to befall one of us, the other would grieve. If she were to move away, I would mourn her skillful scissors, yes, but her kind heart and conversation would be the things I’d miss the most. Just as she is invested in my continued health and happiness, I am invested in her one-woman salon’s success in a way I’ve never been for a Great Clips.

I feel the same way about the family-owned pizza place that my husband and I frequent. It’s not just the addictive, translucent sheets of pepperoni that are nearly impossible to find this far south of Brooklyn, or the crispy, crunchy magic they pull out of that brick oven that have kept us coming back for nearly a decade; it’s our fondness for the feisty namesake, his ultra-chill wife, and unassuming parents who give the place its spirit. Elsewise, we might just get delivery or order a pie to go. Instead, more often we grab a table, order a beer or wine and catch up with them over some slices. If we moved away, we’d be sure to tell them well beforehand. Can you say that about your delivery driver?

I could go on and on about the coffee shop owners, restaurants, bars, musicians and tailors who make Jacksonville the city that I know and love, how it pains me when we debate selling or giving our assets to multi-billion-dollar enterprises or individuals for whom the bottom line is the only line that matters, folks who have zero investment in this town other than their actual investment. Suffice to say: The latter desn’t know the soul of this town, they don’t delight in its quirks, care about its kids and stay up late worrying about its faults. And they never will.

If a city’s budget is a reflection of its priorities, then isn’t your personal budget also a statement of your priorities? Do you want to fill Jeff Bezos’ coffee cup this morning, or buy the Walmart heiress a burger for lunch? Wouldn’t you rather feed the family down the street dinner tonight? ’Cause when you shop small, far more of that money stays here, in the neighborhoods where we all work and play. And those pennies and bills are not merely putting bread on tables, gas in cars and kids in shoes; they’re funding something priceless: our community.