Building Community One Brick (and Mortar) at a Time

Open flagSaturday was “Local Yarn Shop Day”.  Yep. Apparently that’s a thing now.  I have mixed feelings about such things.  I understand the desire to showcase specialty shops, but I feel like the specialty shops need to do extra work to “observe” these designated days.  I had to keep reminding myself that there’s also “Record Store Day” and “Free Comic Book Day” so I guess we’re in good company?!

Thinking about these type of events got me thinking about brick and mortar specialty shops in general.  “Brick and mortar” is a term that’s recently been added to our vocabulary to mean a shop with a physical location.  To some, it might seem strange, that we need to designate that a shop occupies a physical space that a customer can visit.  But with the online stores and sites like E-bay, Etsy, and Amazon, there are ways to own a shop and not ever leave your home.  So, “brick and mortar” was coined as the phrase that designates a shop as a physical location that shoppers can visit during regular hours and seperate it from online retailers.

Besides yarn, records, and comic books, there are many types of  independent specialty stores – cheese, olive oil, pet, cigars, books, cards and stationary, scrapbooking, home brewing, housewares, running, cycling… you get the idea; and the majority of them are independently owned.  Years ago there used to be butchers, bakers, seamstresses, and other service oriented shops in every town, along with a variety of specialty shops. But these days we hustle into the grocery store and hustle out with our produce, baked goods, deli meats, and canned goods in our cart and stop at large box stores to pick up our random assortment of odds and ends.

We’ve grown so accustomed to convenience that we overlook the community that’s built by independent brick and mortar shops.

Sure, it might sometimes feel like you’re spending more time on your errands when you have to plan a trip to a butcher, a produce market, and a specialty shop when you could just point and click between phone calls, shop online from your desk, or stop at that mega box store on your way home.  But are you really saving time or just hustling to look busy?

When you shop at a butcher, for example, they learn your shopping habits – are you a freezer stocker or fresh daily shopper, the cuts you prefer, size of your household.  They learn this the old fashioned way, through regular interactions, not keystroke tracking cookies.

That personal touch that our grandparents took for granted (mostly because the world we currently occupy was the stuff of science fiction to them) is seeing a snail-paced resurgence as small specialty shops – think charcuteries and cheesemongers,  from scratch bakers, and small scale butchers, start popping up in quaint towns.

Are we starting to miss what seemed like mundane interactions to the generations before us?  Farmers’ Markets are popping up everywhere. Are we starting to crave the convenience of local over exotic?  I recently read an article about millennials frequenting book shops and record stores because having grown up in a digital age, they want the tangible, they want the hisses and pops of the recordings and the experience of turning a page.  Are we starting to notice the loss of human interactions and experiences?

Saturday afternoon, after closing up shop, The Goat and I went to an outdoor event at the local microbrewery located just a few blocks from my shop.  (Hurray! It was actually warm enough to be outside!) It was there that I realized that even if the shop didn’t have a great day, it’s part of something much, much, larger – a group of creative souls searching for the same thing – their community.

It was the little things that afternoon that made me reflect on the location of my shop; the hug from a fellow shop-keeper as she showed off her newborn and dog; the local kids playing tag in the street; an old friend The Goat hadn’t physically seen in a very long time, possibly years.  Even though I was exhausted, and it probably showed, I simply sat at a picnic table and watched the afternoon unfold.

I’m not opposed to online shopping, it’s a powerful tool.  I’m thankful that I can order from my suppliers either online or through e-mail because quite often, when the shop is busy, I can’t get to a phone to place orders during regular business hours.  However, I need to make a much more concerted effort to visit the brick and mortar businesses in my community – because without them there is no community. Will you do the same? Let’s rebuild our communities one brick and mortar at a time.

One thought on “Building Community One Brick (and Mortar) at a Time

  1. I agree—even though shopping online is very convenient (mostly for mundane things that I don’t feel like going out for), I very much appreciate the connection with shop owners and community that brick and mortar shops—especially small businesses—offer. If it weren’t for your shop, I’d never have met you! 🙂

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