Being a small-town girl has its perks. Walking into any local shop, and hearing myself greeted by name is one of them; nothing compares to being seen in a society driven by the pursuit of more, bigger, and better.
A few months ago, I had dinner with a fellow National Millennial and GenZ Community colleague who was recalling some trends that they had noticed in regards to the impact corporate companies have on local, family-owned businesses in cities across the nation. Most of his observations ended in the conclusion that corporate enterprise is, in essence, killing out the small business model. I don’t travel too often, but I couldn’t help but agree with several of his points based on the experiences that I have had visiting places where the name of nearly every business is recognizable in countries across the globe. Funny how I had never noticed the impact these mega-brands have made on hundreds, if not thousands of small-scale entrepreneurs, before this particular conversation. I believe this is because I am a first-hand witness to a rural town in the heart of the Midwest challenge this status quo and thrive in doing so.
With just under 20,000 residents, my little city takes pride in identifying itself as a tight-knit community that lives to support one another. We call it “loving what’s local.” If you were to drive into town, at first glance, you might take note of a Walmart and a dozen or so fast-food restaurants. Still, with a bit of further exploration into the businesses that line our streets, you could conclude that the vast majority are one-of-a-kind and nearly always packed with loyal customers. To love what’s local is to try new things, to develop relationships with individuals who share like interests, and to seek and find an identity in a community always looking to collaborate, serve and help one another out.
No matter the success they have achieved, these small businesses have not alluded to the many challenges that come with competing with corporate business altogether. It’s no secret that we are increasingly becoming an “on-demand” society; we want what we want when we want it and all from the convenience and comfort of our homes. Nevertheless, my small-town individual business owners have done an admirable job of capitalizing on the uniqueness of their products and on promising to care for and remember every individual who walks through their doors. They have learned the importance of creating personal relationships with individuals in our community that Amazon Prime can never match. The loophole in the mega-brand system these small Missouri business owners have identified is simple. No matter the level of consumer dissatisfaction or the rate at which demands for new conveniences continue to grow, the human need to fuel an individual’s esteem—the desire for recognition, satisfying self-esteem, and feeling respected—will always be present and in need of being fulfilled. These human needs cannot be met through materialistic purchasing from companies that know customers only as an order number and the endpoint of a tracking cookie.
Despite mega-brand challenges, my community of small businesses continues to grow. With each passing month, entrepreneurs in the community continue to pursue their dreams by bringing new and unique services to our ever-developing tiny town. What I love most is that these individuals are my friends, my friend’s family members, people who I care about and who care for me in return, and not just to win my business. They care because we have years of history, creating memories with one another and cheering each other on through individual and communal victories and milestones. Sure, shopping at small businesses may not seem as alluring as hopping on the corporate bandwagon; however, I will forever be thankful for these same businesses who make me proud to say that I love my city. I love our large family. I will forever love what local has to offer.