Shop Local: Choose Main Street


What’s your most, most favorite boutique, shop, restaurant? I bet that it’s locally owned by an individual, not a corporation (if you are here, reading us, I’m confident that this is a correct assumption and that you are not about to answer Ann Taylor or Olive Garden!).

Think about what makes shopping or dining in that favorite place so special. The service? The atmosphere? The unique selections? That they know your name or will order something especially for you?

When I lived in Orange County and Las Vegas, shopping independent small stores was really difficult. The large shopping mall and strip mall spaces (practically the only type of retail space available) dominated the landscape and offered prohibitive rents that prevented any small shopkeeper from ever considering them. So, shopping choices in such regions were limited to chains, chains and more cookie-cutter chains. I had tried to encourage the few and far between independent shops but they’d often closed down before I could even become “a regular”.

I admit, there is definitely a place, in all our consumption, for Big Box (read Target, mainly). But, as a protagonist for independent business, the scene described above – where this is an almost total absence of independent business – was slowly and surely lobotomizing me by eliminating any semblance of individuality in my shopping, dining and cultural (this part for a whole other discussion) options. Thankfully, things are quite a bit different here in the Greater Chicago area where I live now, and boy does it rejuvenate my spirit. Plenty of small, charming, organic neighborhoods with creative and inspiring choices for shopping, dining, browsing…

Independent businesses and small stores are a precious commodity, a cherished piece of our heritage that is unfortunately under constant threat, battling for survival and they need our support.

There is a movement under way and I want you to join. Whether as a merchant or as a shopper, please join. Well, actually, there are several movements, but all with the same purpose: to shop locally, shop in your neighborhood and shop small stores. It doesn’t matter exactly what they are called. All it takes on your part is a conscious decision to shop small stores in your area.

To me, this quote found on the American Independent Business Alliance website describes so well the rising lament of the same-old-same-old and the yearning for independent:

When in the course of human events, it becomes appropriate for communities to assert their independence, to denounce uniformity and celebrate their uniqueness, a respect for freedom and human creativity requires independent businesses and peoples to declare those elements which make them interesting.

I spoke with Rachel Hershinow, the owner of the very charming Stella boutique in Evanston and the instigator of the Shop Small Store campaign in her Central Street, Evanston neighborhood. For her, this is a Pay-it-Forward and empowering movement that will help preserve and even rejuvenate independent neighborhood shopping districts. And, if you’re not so sensitive to the actual charm and quaintness of these neighborhoods, the numbers will get the point across: For every $100 spent when shopping locally, $68 stays in the community as opposed to $43 with Big Box and, of course $0 with online shopping. That 25% difference is huge to support the community that you live in…

Besides, there are so many reasons to want to shop indie:

  • Small stores display hand-picked merchandise, where every item is chosen by the store owner with the sole purpose to serve and delight its customers.  Small stores offer personality, diversity and creative offerings.
  • The shopkeepers make their decisions to respond uniquely to the community’s needs and wants. And customer service is all-important. That’s their real competitive edge. It’s a hands-on approach, by someone who cares about the shop and its customers. It’s not the corporate chain store where the manager must follow the generic guidelines.
  • Shopping at small stores keeps them in business (thriving would be the goal) and preserves the charm of the neighborhood by keeping stores open, instead of posted with “for lease” signs.
  • The small store offer that small town feeling, where it could possibly be a “where everybody knows your name” place.
  • The value provided by local business might not always be in dollars… Local shopping districts offer a sense of local community and local charm that the uniformity of the regional & national chains is eroding.
  • Often-times small stores can be more convenient and soooooooooo more much satisfying: I was shopping for a hostess gift and two other gifts a couple of weeks ago. It took me less time to stop by three shops on Central St. than it would have to drive the 5 miles to visit Big Box, find the right department, find someone to help me (does anyone even ever work there anymore? I never see a soul), get it gift-wrapped. Exhausting. Instead, on Central Street in Evanston, I found charming and totally unique gifts, I was privileged to have cheery conversations with the shop-keepers and walked out of the stores with gift items that felt more like prizes that I’d just scored. Satisfying indeed.
  • It’s the real, the original, the true social networking way of connecting. Meet the people in your neighborhood, chat with the shopkeepers… That’s real life.

Small retailers, through their sense of creativity and entrepreneurship, are important influencers of our cultural and social fabric and leading forces in the retail industry and in the local economy. I encourage you to shop local indie in your own community – so easy to stroll and discover the neighborhood a beautiful summer day. Also keep this in mind with your travels over the summer: to encourage the delightful independent stores that you will encounter along the way.

The goal of the Shop Small Stores movement is to bring the awareness nationwide. And, I think that we can do more than “preserve” our neighborhood shopping districts. How about having them flourish?

I’m counting on you! ;-)

Read more:


Anne-Marie Kovacs

Chief Wife



In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.