Elizabeth Crumbly column logo

I’ve noticed people who live in the places where they grew up go out of their way to support each other. This phenomenon is particularly evident when it comes to small businesses.

Locals seem to view the colorful, quaint signs that pop up along main streets as legitimate shopping options rather than just pretty scenery. I see natives of Calhoun, my small, Northwest Georgia community, take the time to stop by their friends’ clothing stores and restaurants and make purchases there before they head to chains and box stores. Of course, I realize non-natives of the small towns I frequent also provide support for these small businesses, and I don’t mean to discount their contributions, but I do want to highlight what I see as an overwhelming swell of support from locals.

This solidarity extends beyond spending to organic marketing because these folks post about their purchases on social media. They take the “shop local” concept seriously, and I don’t get the feeling they’re patting themselves on the back. In posting publicly, they seem to simply want to share their experiences.

As you may have gathered, I’m not a native of my community, but I’ve been in the area for nearly 15 years now, and I recently found that my roots run deeper than I thought. When I opened my riding academy, I got a real taste of some of that community support as local people entrusted me with their children for a week of horse camp. These folks were well-established here, and they shared photos of their kids riding my horses all over social media. The amount of likes and loves those photos got was astounding.

I also felt the incredible impact of simple presence that week. An old acquaintance of mine, Mikaylia Chastain, helped me run that first camp. She is a native of the town just south of ours, and we met years ago showing Quarter Horses with the same trainer. Mikaylia made it her mission to memorize the parts of the curriculum she would be teaching that week at camp. I could not have run that first event without her, and I was consistently grateful for her stoic, steady demeanor as she hoisted young riders up into the saddle and ran them through the basics of learning to walk and jog.

Mikaylia showed up on her last day at my farm with personalized metal water bottles for every camper. It was a complete surprise, and I stared at the water bottles attempting to stutter my gratitude.

All I could get out was, “But how did you …”

“I’ve got a Cricut,” she announced matter-of-factly.

She had procured the metal bottles sometime that week and then, despite having two toddlers demanding her time and attention at home, had stayed up into the night carefully incising vinyl letters and attaching them to each bottle. She had even included a re-creation of my riding school logo on one side. Mikaylia refused payment for those bottles, and I got the feeling that I was her family for that week and that this sort of thing was just something one Chastain would do for another. That memory still brings tears to my eyes.

During the COVID-19 stay-at-home order in Georgia, it really hit me how important this support system is for small businesses. When the state’s order lifted, I, like a lot of other people, started doing little things to pay that support forward. I sometimes enjoy an afternoon iced coffee while running errands, and I made sure to order from Swift & Finch, the locally owned coffee house in Rome, Georgia, where I frequently go to do business. I took my daughter to Rome’s City Creamery for a girls’ night out, and we got to peruse the unique candy options and enjoy the decor, which included a jukebox and comfy couches.

There are also dozens of boutique clothing stores in both Rome and Calhoun (I live about halfway in between the towns) where I want to start checking in before shopping at chains. To me, the benefits of supporting local people who just may support me one day and who already contribute in unique ways to these communities offsets any extra cost I incur shopping with them. It’s become clearer to me that we speak volumes with our spending decisions and that I’m voicing my support with every dollar I contribute to a small business. Like I said, I know I’m not the only one who feels extra impetus to shop local after seeing how the pandemic affected small businesses. I’m wondering if you have similar stories to mine, and I’d love to hear them, so get in touch and tell me about your experiences with small businesses.

Elizabeth Crumbly is a newspaper veteran and freelance writer. She lives in rural Northwest Georgia where she teaches riding lessons, writes and raises her family. She is a former editor of The Catoosa County News. You can correspond with her at www.collective-ink.com.

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