No Recession Can Survive Main Street?

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storeSo much was made of the theoretical Main Street vs. Wall Street during this past fall’s election that I think we forget that the iconic street of entrepreneurs really does exist in the small towns and urban neighborhoods all across America. And now, in some places Main Street has fallen on really hard times – given way to Wal-Mart, poorly run schools systems or lack of imagination from civic leaders and an unprecedented level of recession.

But, there are pockets, and I hope you get to experience one, in New York’s SOHO district, on South Congress in Austin, on Shattuck Ave in Berkeley, in Glen Haven, Co population 165, and on 63rd Street in Kansas City’s Brookside neighborhood, where the spirit of American entrepreneurism not only flourishes, it gives hope to all who would wonder where these lean times might lead us.

For these businesses and communities, the question is not can small businesses survive this recession, it’s can the recession survive the can do spirit of small business.

You know the kind of business I mean, right? You just feel better stepping into it, the sites, sounds, and smells take you someplace nice, and you voluntarily tell anyone who asks, and some who don’t, that they, “gotta go there when in town.”

In my hometown neighborhood of Brookside there are four shops on 63rd street, in particular, that embody everything that’s right about American business.

  • Stuff – An eclectic, local artist driven, gift store run by a pair of sisters
  • The Reading Reptile – A children’s bookstore for people who really care about reading
  • The (new) Dime Store – The place to get anything for several generations, complete with well-worn wooden floors
  • World’s Window – Innovative imports, gifts and culturally diverse clothing

In each instance these businesses employ some of the same characteristics
1) All are family owned and operated – 3 by husband and wife, 1 by a pair of fun loving sisters. All employ family members and more than their share of area residents and high schoolers.
2) All make shopping about the service and experience, not the products. (Celebrating my inner diva at Stuff’s Diva Day is an annual highlight)
3) All exude passion for they offer, whether it’s spotlighting a local artist, turning a sidewalk sale into a happening, becoming the central character in the telling of the oral history of the neighborhood, or taking 30 minutes to offer great reading suggestions to parents and grandparents.
4) All are incredible networkers. I think this might be the key to any business success, retail or otherwise. The ability to shower prospects and customers with authentic engagement and to spread that wherever you go is a killer business skill.

So, please, use the comments in this post to tell us about your “Main Street,” and your “gotta go there when you’re in town” businesses, and invite us to encounter what keeps it alive and special.

You can also add your favs by clicking the link at the bottom of the map below (need to login to your Google account to do so.)
View My Favorite Main Streets in a larger map


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  1. Awesome blog post. It's so important to salute the small businesses. We have lots of little shops and restaurants here in Plantation, Fla., and they're doing quite well. As a marketer, I've been even more encouraged in the fact that many of them are not only aware of all the great new tools for marketing, but they're embracing many of these tools. A few of the restaurants are even asking about doing social marketing through Facebook and Twitter. Congrats on a nice blog post.

    1. Thanks John – you sometimes wonder if small business would even pay that much attention to the recession if they didn't hear about it on the news everyday.

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  3. Great post – I've done some work recently with a great group of folks from the North Central Texas region of the Texas Downtown Association – a very energetic and focused group of entrepreneurs! I shared this article with them.

    I double posted one place that my wife and I enjoy going to in Jefferson, TX – but I'm not sure how to delete it off. Sorry.

  4. Where I am living now has no real Main Street type stores as you are referring to. It is kind of sad, but that is just my neighborhood. I would like to comment on yours though. The (new) Dime Store and World's Window sound absolutely awesome. I have been in original 'old' Dime Stores like the one you are referring to when I was a child, and to go back in time and visit one today would be … well, a walk down memory lane for sure. The other one World's Window that sounds like a small intimate version of Pier 1, which is store I can spend hours in without even buying a thing.

    thanks for sharing your home town. 🙂

  5. Thanks for the post, John, great insights. (I have enjoyed your webinars on BrightTalk lately as well – I am learning a great deal as I begin boot-strapping a new company.)

    I have lived recently in two cities that have done an outstanding job with their downtowns:

    Tupelo, Mississippi's historic downtown is undergoing an amazing renaissance. Older buildings restored, dilapidated buildings torn down for a “newer” downtown. The key has been a tight partnership between the local Chamber, the “Main Street” association, and help from county, state, and federal grants. In fact, one of the newer anchors for their downtown is a small business incubator which is creating jobs and revenue. (Recession? What recession?)

    Oklahoma City's Bricktown district is another great example. With a Triple-A baseball park, Toby Keith's “I Love This Bar & Grill,” and old warehouses being renovated into office and living space, it's a great story. There is even the “new” Oklahoma River, complete with a river walk, water taxis, and some great sculptures celebrating the Oklahoma land run. It's a beautiful downtown.

  6. This is exactly what we are trying to do in our town. We want to bring together a group of small business owners to form a new “Green Main Street” on Lorain Ave in Cleveland, Ohio. Come see our progress next time you are in town.

  7. Port Moody BC, Canada is a very small community on the outskirts of much bigger Vancouver. I live about a 5 minute drive from a small local pasta restaurant, Rosa's. Even though most restaurants have had a significant drop in customers, Rosa's still has a line-up outside the doors after 5 p.m. Why? It's not just the great food (and it is delicious). It's the service – Rosa knows all her regular clients and we all know her and her staff. It's like going to family (with better food and service) for dinner. More small businesses need to remember that the connection with the customer is what keeps them coming back!

  8. Port Moody BC, Canada is a very small community on the outskirts of much bigger Vancouver. I live about a 5 minute drive from a small local pasta restaurant, Rosa's. Even though most restaurants have had a significant drop in customers, Rosa's still has a line-up outside the doors after 5 p.m. Why? It's not just the great food (and it is delicious). It's the service – Rosa knows all her regular clients and we all know her and her staff. It's like going to family (with better food and service) for dinner. More small businesses need to remember that the connection with the customer is what keeps them coming back!

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