Today is Small Business Saturday. This effort, started several years ago by with major sponsorship by American Express, promotes an alternative to “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday”, which focus on the big box national retail stores and online sellers respectively. It recognizes that one of the huge assets to our communities are the local small businesses, usually owned and operated by local people, that provide personalized service, distinctive products, and channel jobs and money back into the local economy.
I know. I remember the local small businesses that constituted the fabric of our West Side community growing up. Most were within walking distance of my home, and even as a kid, the people who worked at many of these places knew my name, and I knew theirs. This was true throughout Youngstown. In past posts I’ve written of family grocery stores, restaurants, and neighborhood bars. But these were just the tip of the small business economy in our community. On my corner was Truman’s Dry Cleaning (named after the president, from what I understand). Next to it was Parish Auto Body shop. You could press the wrinkles out of your clothes and your car in the same block! And next to the body shop, you could buy or learn how to make floral arrangements.
Across Mahoning Avenue from Truman’s was a religious store selling items for the devout. Nearby that was the locally owned garage where my dad took his cars for tune-ups and repairs. Just up the hill on Mahoning Avenue was a veterinarian, and in the next block a Dairy Queen and a Lawson’s dairy store. Across from the vet’s was a store selling burial markers (probably because Calvary Cemetery is just a block west. In the next block west, was the barbershop where I got my hair cut as a kid, and a florist and greenhouse.
Going down the hill were a couple family groceries, Dave’s Appliances, where I bought my first stereo, a beer and wine shop, another garage, several bars, our post office branch. Around the corner on Steel Street was a shoe repair shop. Then there was Gerrick’s Jewelers, where I bought a nice watch for my mom. Across the street was Mahoning Pharmacy, where we used to get all our prescriptions.
I could go on and on. Aside from Dairy Queen and Lawson’s and the post office, these were all locally owned small businesses. As a kid, you didn’t act up because many of the owners knew your parents. And the businesses didn’t rip you off–because they knew your parents!
But along the way someone figured out the idea of “economies of scale” and as our cars and road networks grew, big box department and specialty stores, grocery stores, car repair chains all began to compete for the business we gave these local places. We didn’t know the people selling us the goods and often couldn’t even find someone to help us until we got to the checkout. But it stretched the dollars…and it changed the places we called home from places where we lived…and worked…and shopped, to simply places where we slept.
I know from previous posts that there were once vibrant small business communities scattered throughout the city. I’d love to hear your memories of them. I also discovered from the Shop Small website that there are a number of small businesses still making a go of it around Youngstown. Likewise, I found this article on WFMJ’s site about Small Business Saturday activities in surrounding communities. Spending money at these places not only employs and creates jobs for Youngstowners. More of your money stays in Youngstown rather than going off to corporate America.
If you have shopping plans today, you might take some time to visit a small business, wherever you live. Enjoy the personal service. Get away from the big crowds and traffic jams. I won’t be joining you because I’m off my feet with foot surgery, but I placed an order with the small business bookseller whose logo is on this page. He runs one of the best independent religious bookstores in the country from Dallastown, PA, a small town in eastern Pennsylvania. He makes great book recommendations on his blog, and has service as good as that online company! If you have a good experience at a small business, give them a shout out on Facebook or Twitter. Their business depends on friends telling friends. And all of it builds the communities we love, whether it be Youngstown or wherever we call home.