"There's Johnson's Hardware and Morgan's Jewelry. … They were the little men. … I go back now, and it's as if they've never existed. … There goes the little man."
Long before he sang about the difference between Iran and Iraq, country singer Alan Jackson's "Little Man" was a ballad for thought, especially during the holiday season. Every dollar you spend on holiday presents, turkeys or Christmas ornaments can help your community—but not if you send your money out of town.
But it's so easy to do. Most of us are extremely busy between work, family and social obligations. It just seems easier and more efficient and even cheaper to pile in the car and head to a big mall or a fluorescent-filled superstore to buy everything from underwear to gift wrap to peanut butter (never mind that we're tempted to spend extra money when we get there). Every time we choose big-box retail, whether it's Barnes & Noble or Wal-Mart or, yes, even the oh-so-hip Target, we are passing up an opportunity to re-invest our money directly into our community.
As a result, businesses close or move to more sterile suburbs, jobs are lost, downtown storefronts are boarded up. So much for the little man. All the profits are headed to some place like Bentonville, Ark. And if Jacksonians spend money outside the city limits, it hurts the city and county—from job creation to funds for tourism promotion. We're the city all these suburbs feed off of—they need to re-invest in our economy, not the other way around.
Fortunately, the tide is starting to turn back toward shopping local. People are realizing the economic benefits and sheer charm of a small business where someone serves you a cup of cider and helps you pick out a special, perhaps one-of-a-kind gift. It doesn't hurt that abandoned Wal-Mart buildings are dotting the countryside as the company outgrows one store and takes over another part of town. This retail blight makes it pretty clear that giving over a local business culture to corporate comglomerates does not a charming town make.
Even in my hometown of Philadelphia, Miss., townspeople are coming together to try to rebuild a downtown that has steadily deteriorated since Wal-Mart showed up when I was in high school. (Some of that revitalization money comes thanks to the Pearl River casinos.) And here in Jackson, efforts to invigorate the city's small-business climate are impressive. We all know by now that the Fondren Renaissance has taken firm hold. In upcoming days and weeks, you'll see that the Rainbow Co-op is expanding its hours and opening on Sunday(!). The newly renovated Fondren Village is about to emerge bedecked in retro 1950s-style neon. Businesses, small and smaller, are lining up to fill the old Wildlife and Fisheries building. (Watch for a charming little laundry drop-off place in there and a modern-furniture store, among others.)
The vibrancy of this effort is palpable. Just go to a Fondren Art Mix or to one of the late shopping nights, and you can see the excitement on people's faces over the fact that they can actually stroll from business to business, visiting, shopping, feeling a part of something special. That's what shopping local is all about.
Around the city, other examples of this "shop local" mindset are evident. There are mom-and-pop businesses—from barbecue places to fish-sandwich shops to barber and beauty shops—throughout West Jackson where people gather, talk and help support small-business owners. Highland Village seems to be enjoying a resurgence, perhaps due to all the hip restaurants that are springing up around it. The Greater Belhaven Market is another exciting effort that draws people out every Saturday morning to shop with their babies and dogs in tow—where this issue's fashion spread was shot.
Of course, we want to see more of this small business re-investment take place downtown, but we realize the challenges ahead. We also know that if all us Jacksonians want an active retail and entertainment base in the heart of our city badly enough, it will happen. But we can't afford to wait around for it; we must go make it so. That means supporting our own: buy local gifts this holiday, eat in local restaurants, seek out the wares of local artists, support businesses' attempts at longer hours.
The really special part is that when you burrow in a bit and actively start supporting your local community, the world seems to suddenly get larger and more inviting. I can't really explain it, but it works. Try it. Join the Jackson Free Press as we launch our campaign with this issue to get more Jacksonians to "Think Global, Shop Local." Watch for our local gift guides in our December issues but, most importantly, just get out there and support the little guys. As Alan sings, "God bless the little man."
— Donna Ladd
We got one dem thar intelligentsia types rite here in Jacktown, Mississip. She don't lik it much when wes thinks for ourselves. She's da Great Debunker and we's been saved.
"It is one of the painful signs of the immaturity and lack of realism among the intelligentsia that many of them regard this as a "problem' to be "solved.' Trade-offs have been with us ever since the late unpleasantness in the Garden of Eden."
Beware! Countering "new urbanism," Wal-Mart is accelerating their expansion. From CNN Money:
Wal-Mart's CEO recognizes that zoninig laws will becoming increasingly less friendly to supercenters, and so plans to ramp up expansion with plans to open between 550-600 stores in the upcoming year.
"Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to open 270 to 280 supercenters in the next fiscal year and add more than 60 million square feet to its total retail space, an increase of more than 8 percent.
...Wal-Mart Chief Executive Officer Lee Scott said earlier this year that he expects zoning laws to get tougher in the years to come, so Wal-Mart is eager to ramp up expansion now."
Good Lord! Over 500 supercenters!! What can local businesses do to fight this?