by Joey Phoenix and Kylie Sullivan
Images by Creative Collective

If you live on the North Shore and have access to the diversity of restaurants, retail, services, and experiences that these cities have to offer, it’s not difficult to imagine why it’s important to support small business in your community. 

Supporting local small business is incredibly important for so many reasons: it feeds back into the region, strengthens environmental initiatives and sustainability, and makes the whole community healthier. Plus, shopping local means that you get the added benefit of having an experience or buying items that you may just not be able to find anywhere else. 

Small Businesses Create a Sense of Place 

When you think about what makes a city special some things that might come to mind are the people, the scenery, or maybe even the proximity to the ocean or national landmarks. But usually, when people talk about loving their community they talk about the connections they have with business owners and the shops and favorite restaurants downtown. They talk about all there is to eat, see, and do, and these places become such a key part of what makes a city so special, at least in urban communities.

Photographer Jim Bostick of Salem Arts Association

Walking into a restaurant that you frequent where everyone behind the counter knows your name can create a sense of belonging. It’s quite easy to get on a first name basis with the people you do business within your community because people want to connect with each other. Although it is possible for this to happen with larger businesses, especially if they’re well operated, with small businesses there’s no way for it not to happen. 

One of the things that often gets overlooked in a community is that business owners are often also part of the community where they have their business. They have to eat, go to the bank, buy insurance, shop for gifts – and if they’re supported by their community, they’re more likely to give back to it. In a small business driven economy, small retailers and restaurants are likely to use local insurance companies, lawyers, CPA’s, etc as well as eating at other restaurants and shopping locally.

Diversity of Small Businesses Mean a Healthier Community 

When it comes to building healthy communities, having a diversity of small businesses is a key element. Small businesses allow for a community to be so much more nimble. Looking at the North Shore there are so many perfect examples of that.

Vampfangs Ribbon Cutting 2018

But If you have an entire community that relies on General Electric and then GE goes away, that kills the community. Small businesses allow for a diversity of strongholds so if one niche fails then the whole community doesn’t necessarily fail. For example, if an entire community derived its money from tourism alone, that could lead to economic hardship. Tourism can be fickle, especially in communities like Salem where it is important for so many reasons, which could be dangerous to those businesses who rely on it for their survival. 

Variety is healthy for any economy, especially in a small economy, and there’s more room to make adjustments. In a small town, individual stores can pivot based on how the market is going without losing an entire business, which is much more difficult in a larger scale business. 

For example, look at what happened with the frozen yogurt chains. At the small business level, ice cream shops started carrying more frozen yogurt when frozen yogurt got more popular. But the chains, even the local franchises took up a lot of space, and when the frozen yogurt industry started collapsing there ended up being a lot of empty storefronts where these chains used to be, and smaller ice cream shops kept thriving. 

Supporting small businesses is less of a risk, because if a small business is part of the community and the owners are a part of the community, they are going to do what it takes to stay. Although new storefronts can always refresh and infuse a city with energy, high turnover rates do the opposite. Small business owners want to be part of healthy downtown districts. 

Small Businesses are Good for the Environment  

As it turns out, supporting your local business is also environmentally friendly. One of the big reasons for this is because it reduces the impact of shipping across oceans and the materials, plastic, and fossil fuels used to make that happen. Also, people who live and work in their communities don’t have as much of a commute to get to their work, which shortens the amount of time cars need to be on the road. 

Salem Farmers Market Farm to Table 2018

Because local businesses are small scale, it’s also easier for them to adopt sizable sustainability initiatives like cutting out plastic straws, switching to compostable materials, or reducing plastics because the volume is much smaller and more manageable. While larger companies can certainly pull this off and have a larger ecological impact as a result, small businesses can adopt these ideas almost right away. 

These are only three of dozens of reasons why supporting small business is instrumental in strengthening a local community. Small businesses can tell the story of a community, give the residents a sense of place, and, sometimes, even give them something to brag about. 


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Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. Follow them on Twitter @jphoenixmedia. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable llamas, feel free to send them a message at joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com

Kylie Sullivan, Executive Director of Salem Main Streets since 2013, came to SMS after six years as a grants administrator at the Massachusetts Cultural Council. A native of Georgetown, MA, Kylie and her husband live in Beverly, Ma with their adorable dog Bella.