Why we should shop small

As you’re beginning to see in my posts, shopping takes up a bit of my spare time. I’ll admit it – I visit big box stores (mostly Target and I’m the mayor of my local Target on foursquare), and I am a huge fan of giant malls.

Something happened on Small Business Saturday that makes me want to pull back from my habits.

I visited Chelsea’s Boutique, a little shop across from the post office in downtown Leominster. I’d passed by it many times in the 8 years I’ve lived in Massachusetts. The funky dresses and colorful paper lanterns in the store windows always caught my eye, but I was too busy to stop in. I made a point to shop there on Small Business Saturday. The owner, Susan, was there – she’d had the store for 20 years and knows a lot of people in the community. I could tell by her conversation with a 20-something customer that she was a friend of Susan’s family. She was unflappably kind, and had a crazy amount of discounts for Small Business Saturday – she was practically giving some things away.

As I was paying for my purchases (top secret Christmas gifts for my nieces – I can’t reveal what I bought!), Susan asked if I’d followed her Facebook page – she said she uses it to announce new products, like one of the hair accessories I was buying. “People have been asking when those were coming in – they’re one of Oprah’s Favorite Things this year.”

I walked back to my car – satisfied that I’d finally gone to Chelsea’s, and happy to participate in Small Business Saturday.

A few hours later, Chelsea’s was gone – a massive fire took down the boutique’s building, the former Columbia Hotel.

Chelsea’s customers flooded the Facebook page with kind words and offers for help. Volunteers and community members stepped forward to assist business owners and tenants in the retrieval of their belongings. They made donations. They’re helping them rebuild and move on.

As I read Facebook posts and local newspaper articles about the fire, and people’s thoughts about the loss and rebuilding of these businesses, something occurred to me: If a Walmart burned down, would you see the same thing? Would people be emotional? Would they rush to the scene, bearing supplies and donations and offering to participate in the cleanup efforts?

Would they personally know the owners and workers – would they be friends of their families, or former classmates? Did they shop at the big box because of the  relationships and their emotional connections to those people? Did the owners know them by name? Did they know that they were asking them to order some of Oprah’s Favorite Things so they could buy them as Christmas gifts?

Yeah, probably not.

This is why we should shop small.