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Small Business Saturday

November 24, 2010

As Thanksgiving 2010 approaches, talk of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is upon us, along with predictions and prognostications about what retail performance this year might signal about the state of our nation’s economy.  Amidst the chatter on public radio and my newsfeed on Facebook, I’ve started hearing rumblings of a new idea: Small Business Saturday.  The idea is to encourage a concerted effort this Saturday to support small businesses by spending some precious holiday dollars at locally owned shops rather than making all of our purchases at big box and mall stores.

In celebration of this idea, I’d like to honor a few of the small businesses owners in my life by sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned from them.  Their brave entrepreneurialism is not only the engine of our economy, it is an essential ingredient in creating community.

Anglin’s Drug Store
One of my first jobs was at Anglin’s Drug store, a pharmacist-owned apothecary on Main Street in Buford, Georgia. Last week, one of my former co-workers, Christy Wilson Coffey, described it this way: “Fun four years cleaning dirty coffee cups, ash trays, filling vials, and talking with great Buford folk!”

As a teenager, I never thought about those dirty Saturday morning coffee cups as a promotional strategy. I never saw the handwritten system of trust-based credit as an economic development tool. I never saw the generations of young people getting their first paychecks as job training. I never saw the friendly greetings from familiar customers as intentional engagement. Now, of course, through the lenses of my work in social media, marketing and public relations, I can’t help but view what I observed and learned there this way.

You can read more about my two-and-a-half years there in a February 2010 post whose title comes from a favorite phrase of Bill Anglin, it’s proprietor: “I’m an entrepreneur. It rhymes with manure.

Small Business Saturday Lesson #1:  People – customers and employees – are looking for more than transactions. They want trust.

The Buford Exchange
Just up the street from Anglin’s Drug Store, my parents owned a shop called The Buford Exchange that was memorialized in a watercolor painting by one of the local artists. If you look really closely, you can see my dad sitting in front of the forest green wall in that painting, smoking a cigarette in a cane-bottom rocking chair on the sidewalk.

I remember him best from those days emerging from behind the partition that separated the showroom floor from the shop in the back. He’d have a rag in one hand, and the other hand would be wiping the sweat off his forehead. The scent of turpentine would linger in the air when he’d been back there stripping a piece of furniture.

He and my mom would buy stuff at yard sales, flea markets and estate sales – junkin’ they call it, and they’d been doing it long before it was their business, and still are now that they’re retired. He could turn what looked to some like scratched up old chiffarobes and steamer trunks into valuable antiques. In the process, they’d turn a profit on each piece of 100 or sometimes even 500 percent.

While they owned the shop, my mom organized Buford’s first art festival, Tannery Row, and they leveraged it to help bring it not only customers but consigners who leased space and sold their own goods and shared the revenue with the store.  It was also a key factor in raising awareness of the budding artist colony in Buford, which gave way to the revitalization of Main Street in the years to come.

Sitting behind the counter at The Buford Exchange, I did my homework, filled out college applications and occasionally rang up a purchase or helped with the books. I never thought that even after this business closed and we all moved away from that small town some of my fondest family memories would be of that place where our livelihood was made by making old things new.

Small Business Saturday Lesson #2: Make more than a living. Make a life by doing what you love.

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