The Indies First Campaign

This Saturday, November 26, is Small Business Saturday. While big box stores may sell it cheaper and online sellers more conveniently, small businesses learn what their own community needs and offer personalized service and recommendations to help customers find what they need. And after a pandemic of depersonalization, that personal touch means more than ever.

Not only that, small businesses make our communities good places, replacing the banal sameness of much of our commercial landscape with unique storefronts and signage, walkability, and in many cases, offer gathering places for local events. Small businesses preserve and renew neighborhoods, so important to the fabric of our cities.

Independent bookstores are a big part of that landscape. While Amazon shut down its own attempt to launch brick and mortar stores and is scaling back it inventories of books, independent bookselling has been growing. Indie bookstores offer unique events for every age group and often are a place where new authors get to engage, in a live space, with potential readers and where people get to hear established writers talk about their works (and of course sell signed copies!).

And so it just makes sense that part of Small Business Saturday is the Indies First Initiative, which is now in its tenth year. This is an effort of the American Booksellers Association that begins with authors, encouraging them to volunteer as guest booksellers during Small Business. And it seeks to encourage those of us who buy books to turn to our local independent booksellers for those recommendations rather than a computer algorithm. Coming at the beginning of the holiday shopping season, the booksellers are glad to help you find just the right book for that favorite someone.

This effort was launched by First Nations author Sherman Alexie, who came up with the idea of writers volunteering as guest booksellers and also to link to indies to sell their books online. Over the years, the effort has enjoyed the advocacy of well-known spokespeople and authors including Roxane Gay, N.K. Jemisin, Dan Rather, Jason Reynolds and Cheryl Strayed. This year’s Indies First Spokesperson is Celeste Ng, whose Our Missing Hearts was reviewed at Bob on Books this week. You can view a video where she talks about Indies First. She summed up her appeal in a recent Tweet:

This Saturday, 11/26, is #IndiesFirst. And you know what makes a great holiday present? Books! If you’re not sure WHICH book, the real live people at your local independent bookseller can give you personal recommendations! Just stop in and ask them.

Celeste Ng

The IndieBound website makes it easy to find your nearest indie bookseller. Just type in your zip code, and it can help you find your nearest store in a 10, 50, or 100 mile radius. I even discovered a few nearby stores I did not know about.

So, if you are looking for books for yourself or someone else (or both) this weekend, shop Indies First. Many of the stores will have special events, even special discounts. The IndieBound website can help you find local store websites ahead of time to learn hours and of anything special going on. When you visit, you’ll meet fellow book lovers who care about connecting you with books you’ll love. You may even meet someone who writes books! And you’ll support the small business ecosystem that contributes to the flourishing of your community.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Small Businesses

communities-largeToday 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.