Peter Applebome, Our Towns writer for the New York Times recently wrote, “Who Killed This Little Bookstore,” an article about small town, independent bookstores who serve a purpose that’s larger than simply selling goods.
According to the article, it’s the big box retailers like Barnes & Noble and online behemoths like Amazon.com that killed the local bookstore, whose numbers have decreased by 50% to 2,500 locations in the past 20 years. That’s only about 50 independent bookstores in each state — not a lot.
But the key here is that independent retailers can reinvent themselves as gathering places. Local bookstores, for instance, that hold book events help to create a local, real-life version of social networking. They also serve as a link in the chain that holds local downtown areas together.
We’re all longing for a sense of belonging. Take our local Main Street. It’s the place we walk to each morning to support our local (read: not Starbucks) coffee house. It’s the place we go to stroll the blocked off streets during the annual Art Festival weekend. The place we take a client to lunch, the place where we buy fresh produce at the Sunday morning Farmer’s Market, the place where the local hardware guy knows how to fix anything, and gladly recommends the products we’ll need to take care of our plumbing problem.
This is Americana, and Americans are waking up, supporting these businesses not only by purchasing goods but by gathering at these places that support the local community. They’re gathering because the retailers are creating reasons for them to gather. And that in turn, helps boost word of mouth and traffic to these establishments. Sometimes, a local angel even invests in a foundering business, simply to keep their local Main Street intact.
It’s this give and take, this symbiotic relationship between communities and their Main Street establishments that is helping to strengthen the integrity of the community as a whole.
How is your community supporting you (and how are you supporting the community in return?