Fresh and Local, Every Day | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Fresh and Local, Every Day

One night a few weeks ago, Todd and I left the office at our too-usual time of 8 or 9 p.m. We ran through McDade's to pick up dinner supplies.

As we pulled up to the traffic light at Duling and North State, I saw a purple glow outside my right eye. "Ooooo," I squealed. "The sushi place must be testing its lights!" Like many Jacksonians, I have been counting the months waiting for Fatsumo to open within walking distance of our home and office.

Then I looked ahead, and I could see the new Campbell's Bakery crew painting its interior, prepping for their opening a few days later right in the middle of one of the city's most authentic-looking strips of local businesses. (And, yes, I now have cannoli within walking distance; who needs New York City?) I'd already watched the Petra Cafe crew out my office window for weeks work long days renovating the old Jerusalem Cafe, dragging their exhausted selves away late at night.

It is impossible for me to overstate how much I just adore this kind of local, hard-working, roll-up-the-sleeves commerce. I loved getting up back in my Manhattan days, walking to get a bagel and newspaper, watching the deli owners hose down the sidewalks and arrange the flower bouquets. There is nothing more authentic than a community of small business owners who believe in their wares and their customers and their community. I'm crazy about hard, passionate work, and little is harder than being an entrepreneur. Trust me.

To me, this is exactly what free enterprise looks like (and smells like when you're lucky enough to work next to a bakery or a Petra).

We hear a lot about "rebranding" lately. But in those conversations, I seldom hear mention of the need to actively and darn near militaristically support "the little man" (as singer Alan Jackson called local business owners in his tribute that makes me, yes, tear up every time I hear it. I'm a sentimental locavore).

Folks, our local businesses are the heart and freakin' soul of our city, and our metro, and they are the foundation that any sustainable renaissance will rise upon. Not only do they--we--spend a larger percentage of our expense budget on other local vendors, helping create more jobs, but local businesses are what makes a place "cool."

Quick, think of a city you love to visit that is filled with one cookie-cutter chain or development after another? Now picture the truly cool cities and all those quirky locally owned businesses that create the authenticity and sense of place that makes you want to go back, or steal their ideas for Jackson.

A few years back, we attended a newspaper convention at the convention center in Philadelphia, Pa. On breaks, I couldn't wait to get out of that monstrosity and explore the city. I wasn't trolling for another Gap; I was looking for the nearby Reading Terminal Market (slogan: Fresh & Local, Every Day), filled with the little guys of Philadelphia: vendor after vendor selling local flavor. Progress and "place" is all about the little man (and woman).

It is time that we talk and act and spend local every chance we get. If we truly care about our city's future and the kind of authenticity that is going to (a) keep people here, (b) lure others here to live and invest, and (c) become a tourist magnet, we must keep our local fixation front of mind at all times. We have immense creative talent here. We don't need to outsource our design or most anything else.

Right here in the metro, we have local bookstores and health stores and boutiques and consignment shops and sign makers and corporate swag dealers and cannoli makers and sushi chefs and falafel folders and interior designers and florists and office-supply stores and much more. If we're really worried about investment in our community--and the cost of losing it--we must tend our own local gardens first. We must re-invest our pennies and dollars every chance we can, and in whatever ways we can afford, right here at home.

And I mean in the Jackson metropolitan area. We must start sinking or swimming together as a metro. We have delightful local restaurants and locally owned services and shops in Jackson and in our bedroom communities. It's time to end goofy word wars--hey, I've done it--that try to make us choose between spending inside or outside the city limits.

That is thinking tiny. None of us has to choose. I can eat dinner at Fatsumo (which I did last Friday, amid the purple glow; yum), and I can drive out to RideSouth in Brandon to rent a fun "trike" (which we did for Mal's St. Paddy's parade). Folks who live in the suburbs can pop into E&L for barbecue before heading home to the reservoir, and then stop at Mimi's for breakfast on the way in to work.

I was thrilled to see a tweet from Richard Florida (the "Creative Class" expert) this week showing that a national business publisher had ranked Jackson as the 27th city "most conducive to the creation and development of small businesses." I sent out my own breaking tweet to a community that, yes, hungrily gobbles every bit of small business progress that we throw y'all. Why? Because you get this local thing.

Yes, Austin is No. 1 (of course), but Portland, Ore., came in 28th, right behind us. But get this: The survey ranked the "100 metropolitan areas"--precisely because a city is only as good as its "metro," and vice versa. Imagine: Not every metro fights like starved chickens in a city-v.-burbs cage. Many understand that our fortunes are linked. (Try telling suburbanites around Austin that they need to talk down their city, or avoid shopping there, to somehow make themselves look better. Riggght.)

Another report shows that boomers are returning to cities as their kids leave the nest. David Lynn wrote in Retail Traffic Magazine (told you I'm a local-business geek) that they are seeking "smaller, more manageable living quarters in vibrant, entertainment-driven environments." This trend is helped along by rising transportation costs and a "general preference for mixed-use communities."

As a result, retail strategies are changing to meet their needs, as well as appeal to all the young creatives and professionals who are moving in droves to cities or "close-in neighborhoods" across the U.S. (up 26 percent since 2000, according to CEOS for Cities).

Just how are the retail strategies changing? Guess. (Hint: the words "local" and "authentic" are in the answer somewhere.)

Donna Ladd is also the editor-in-chief of BOOM Jackson magazine (@boomjackson on Twitter). The next issue hits the streets June 1.

Previous Comments


Um... didn't I used to argue the point about the city and it's suburbs working together instead of bickering? Like back in the days when you guys would talk bad about our lovely gas stations here in Madison? And I would often be placed in a position to actually defend Madison, even though I don't really like it all that much? You should either: a) Give me a full apology and admit that I was right and you were wrong or b) Tell me what a shit job I do at expressing my viewpoint, as what you said above was what I had meant to say all along...


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