Two decades ago, when we were expecting our second child, a difficult pregnancy confined my wife at home for weeks, and I stayed close by to care for her. That limited my shopping trips to brief drives within our neighborhood. Luckily, a thriving network of nearby businesses gave me good options.
A small restaurant a few blocks away quickly whipped up takeout meals when I couldn’t cook. The staff kept in mind my wife’s uneven appetite, speeding our order when she felt well enough to eat. Thanks to a locally owned hardware store a stone’s throw from us, I was able to tackle a few home improvement projects while still serving as an amateur nurse. A family-owned supermarket within a five-minute drive made quick grocery trips a snap.
In time, my wife improved, giving birth to a healthy son. Her rebounding health restored our mobility, allowing us to drive much farther to shop.
But for the past 20 years, I’ve tried to keep up our practice of shopping in my neighborhood whenever possible. At a time when I most needed them, those businesses were there for me. But they can’t stay open if my neighbors and I aren’t there for them.
All of this came back to mind during this year’s lockdown as millions of us stayed home to help fight a pandemic. The lockdown reminded us how critical it can be, when largely homebound, to have easy access to a nearby restaurant for hot takeout or a grocery for basic necessities.
Now, with pandemic restrictions eased, shoppers are reclaiming a range of choices about where to spend their money. But neighborhood small businesses, many of them hammered by the shutdowns required to stem COVID-19, need us now more than ever. Our choices about whether to support them will shape our prosperity, too.
If vacant storefronts become common in any neighborhood, then surrounding property values are going to suffer. In spending locally, I’m helping sustain hard-earned equity in my home. My local church fair, my neighborhood arts festival, those area school fundraisers and my neighborhood civic association don’t get help from distant online retailers. Those homegrown initiatives are supported by local businesses.
I support my local bookstore because it supports the local authors who give any community its distinctive voice. Local business advertising supports this newspaper’s community journalism — the kind of coverage that helps keep government accountable, something needed now as never before.
My late mother operated a small business that helped put me and my five siblings though college. When I was looking for my first job in high school, a small business took a chance on me. I suspect that many of us got our start in the world of work from small businesses, too.
Maybe this year’s pandemic has prompted us to appreciate our friends. Many of them, it turns out, are behind the cash register down the street.