Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday.
While people lined up [in some cases, last night] for Black Friday deals at large chain retailers, there’s a movement planning to shop locally tomorrow.
It’s not about getting the best deals on mass produced electronics; it’s about supporting the people who actually live in your neighborhood.
I Understand Being Frugal
I’m pretty frugal, so supporting local retailers that often can’t offer as deep a discount as a large chain may seem counter productive to saving money. But by spending a little more for things, I think before I buy; “Do I really need that thing everybody’s buying?”
The more I buy from small businesses, the less enthralled I am with that must have item that will find its way to the back of the closet with all the other must have items we’re bombarded with each year.
I put a monetary value on my time, and standing in line for hours when I could be writing, working, or spending time with people I care about is worth more than saving a bit of money. (In the words of Fugazi, “You are not what you own!”)
(Now, in all fairness, I know that for some people, there’s fun in standing in line — in the cold — with a stomach full of Thanksgiving dinner and hoping the store’s doors open before turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie reaches the far end of your digestive tract.)
How people choose to spend their money is their own business, but I’ve noticed that many people complaining about poor customer service and feeling like just another number in a big system are often the same people who don’t shop locally.
While I may occasionally pay a little more for some items by shopping locally, I experience customer service from people who actually recognize me (who know what I’m up to and ask how things are going). If there’s a problem, it’s fixed with a genuine apology. And I know more of the money I hand over the counter goes back into the town where I live.
I save more in the long run because I’m not caught up in the wave of “I’ve gotta have that!” and rush out to buy things I don’t need without thinking.
Being a Local Writer
As a writer, if you’re lucky enough to have a local bookstore in your town, who do you think will do more to promote you and care about what you’re doing: the local bookstore, or the big chain with high employee turn around?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a writer placed near the door in a packed Barnes and Noble or Borders with nobody stopping by their table. Unless you’re a very well-known writer, you’re likely to have better luck at a local book store. (And if your local bookstore is a specialty bookstore and you write in that genre, you’re even luckier!)
The Small Businesses of Roanoke, Texas
The Book Carriage is our local book store. It’s a very cool little building, with a loft where you can read and have coffee, a conference room, and a stage seeming to float somewhere in the middle of it all.
It’s owned by a family that always dreamed about owning a book store. It really is one of those, “We sank our life savings into this shop,” kind of things.
The Book Carriage is on a street full of local small businesses.
And the more small businesses that find a home on Oak Street, the more Oak Street and the local economy have picked up.
Maybe Roanoke could have made more money packing Oak Street with chain restaurants and shops, but it’s a small town surrounded by larger towns doing that much better than we are. Roanoke can’t offer hundreds of shops and restaurants, but the shops and restaurants it does offer strive to be different from standard fare.
Write Like a Small Business
Small businesses can rarely offer the same thing huge chains offer for less. But they often offer an overall better experience; so much so, that many larger chains have tried emulating a small-town feel with their stores.
As a writer, you can try creating a writing factory like James Patterson. But you know what? James Patterson will always do what he does better than you, just as Walmart will always be able to offer cheaper prices for merchandise than most small businesses.
The way to stand out is by offering something people can get no place else.
I will drive an hour each way to buy tea at The Cultured Cup in Dallas; I will pay a little more for biscuits to go with that tea at The British Emporium a couple towns over than I’d pay at a large grocery store (if they even have what I’m looking for). And I will take a day off from work the day favorite authors release new books because sometimes those authors rely on me and a handful of other followers to squeak by.
I will rabidly sing the praises of Robert Olmstead, Jeffrey Ford, Anne Ursu, and Jim Lynch — writers who are like a successful small business, offering something I can’t get from the big-named writers churning out the same content with every release as though it came off an assembly line.
There are definitely some big writers I like — just like there are some chain stores I do shop at — but I find my favorite experiences come from smaller authors and businesses because they can afford to take the chances the big guys can’t take.