Keep Southwest special by shopping local

About two years ago I dreamed up a publicity campaign called “Shop local; it matters!” It was a short, catchy phrase that would look good on buttons and posters. 

It captured a lot of things near and dear to me— supporting local businesses that contribute uniquely to the fabric of our community, encouraging people to be more “intentional” about how they spend their money, and it tickled me to properly use my favorite nuanced punctuation mark, the semicolon.

There were enthusiastic meetings and a plan and a budget written, a generous graphic designer created a logo for it, gratis, but alas, the campaign never took off.  Then the recession really seemed to dig in and a climate of consumer anxiety and self-preservation became the dominate theme for everyone and a button and poster campaign seemed about as helpful as spitting on a fire.

I watched as wave after wave of small businesses in Southwest (and everywhere else) closed and “For Rent/For Sale” signs in empty storefronts began to hold a common spot on most business corners, blocks and malls.

As a small business owner myself, I too shifted into the anxiety/self-preservation mode, hoping to hang on until there was a shift and the economic climate improved.

I watched the “waves” of store closings with both concern and with a bit of self-interest — always weighing whether moving my shop to a better, and/or cheaper, location would be one more fortifying thing I could do to weather the recession’s storm. At first, the waves of store closings would happen about every six months but more recently it seems that it’s just a steady pace of people calling it quits.  In January, I too joined the ranks and closed Fairy Godmother; I just didn’t have the energy or cash flow to continue until things get better.

I so admire, and envy frankly, those businesses that are still standing — bless them. From my observations and conversations with business owners, no one is doing great, bustling commerce right now (except the consignment and thrift stores) but they are counting on things getting better.

I can tell you that the level of effort it takes to keep the doors open, the lights on, the staff paid and inventory/menu attractive and inviting is tremendous. These hardworking, resourceful business owners no doubt have enough of a solid foundation of customers that’s holding steady, and hopefully have sales and cash flow reserves to continue to stay in the game.

We all hope that we’re in the final stage of this recession; it’s not hard to see bright spots and optimistic evidence of it. But if making sure that your favorite shops, services and restaurants stay alive, it would be a good time to practice the wisdom of the little button that never got printed. “Shop local; it matters!” is an important way to help keep what makes Southwest Minneapolis so special — because it really does matter.

Terre Thomas  is a self-proclaimed Fairy Godmother. She recently closed her Southwest gift shop but continues with her online giftshop. She and her family live in the Lyndale neighborhood. She can be reached at [email protected]