One of my 2020 blogging resolutions was to highlight Chicago neighborhood small businesses as part of the Meet Your Neighbor series. I had even chosen my first business to highlight: B-Sides Coffee and Vinyl, a really cool coffee shop at 99th and Walden Parkway across from the Metra Rock Island Line station. I had frequented B-Sides Coffee (including many cool shots on my Instagram account)…and then read on Facebook that B-Sides Coffee & Vinyl will be closing on January 31st.
It’s not the first time I’ve encountered a local business closing: both Peace of Pizza on 95th and Wood and Ellie’s Cafe at 107th and Hale also closed within the past three months. Although this blog has highlighted local small business efforts in the past (like Local First Chicago and Small Business Saturday), it’s hard not to grieve when a neighborhood small business like Cas Hardware in Andersonville closes its doors. It’s like a beloved member of the community dies…
Because, quite honestly, it is.
Community and neighborhood-based small businesses don’t just empower others. (I have consulted with organizations like Greater Southwest Development Corp, and have attended events at the Beverly Area Planning Association). A community or neighborhood-based small business drives tax revenue, fosters employment, and serves as an anchor for the community. Although there are many programs to foster entrepreneurs (like this collaboration between LISC Chicago, NLEN, and Sunshine Enterprises), those who start a small business in their community face multiple challenges.
One of those challenges is the attitude that local businesses are more expensive – and less convenient than – than their larger competitors. “Big box stores” like Walmart and online retailers like Amazon serve as an excellent example of this attitude, since ordering online is much easier than going to a physical location. However, customer convenience comes at the cost of the community. Although technology makes acquiring certain goods easier, the result is lesser interaction and connectedness. (Case in point: I live within a half-block of a Starbucks, yet chose to walk down four streets to B-Sides. It was a more relaxing atmosphere, they served excellent Metropolis Coffee, and I was more productive in writing and social interactions). Small neighborhood businesses also solicit business from other local neighborhood vendors, fostering a greater sense of community within any Chicago neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, one of the other challenges comes from the “crushing it” mentality of startup culture. This “lone wolf with a vision” mentality focuses on ‘hustle porn’ as gospel truth, choosing to follow “gurus” like Gary Vaynerchuk and Tony Robbins rather than the dictates of logic and smart business sense. WeWork’s issues over the past year are one example of this attitude’s potential destructiveness: the “win-win” business mentality applied to social change is another example.
(Before you argue – yes, some neighborhood and community-based small business owners are not immune to these attitudes. Yes, some tech startup entrepreneurs don’t subscribe to the above mentality. But both types of business deserve support and effort. Running a non-tech-oriented, brick-and-mortar business that is neither franchise nor multi-level marketing requires time, effort, and resources. A neighborhood small business owner commits to serving the larger community, and that requires greater support from members of that community).
So what’s the solution? Simple: Support small business in your neighborhood sooner rather than later. Although I had supported the three Beverly-based businesses I stated in the introduction, they were not immune to the challenges facing community-based small business owners. Many Chicago neighborhoods face the challenge of driving economic development and small business growth. Although some entrepreneurs are succeeding in their efforts (see Good Tree Capital and cannabis-based businesses in Chicago), many others still require ongoing support. It is never easy, but it’s the neighborly thing to do.
Now if you will excuse me, I have to plan a final visit to B-Sides Coffee and Vinyl. It’s the least I can do.
And thanks for reading!