I live on the west coast, and as fate would have it, I was in Boston last week. There with my wife and youngest daughter looking at colleges, we ended up staying about a block from where the perimeter had been set up after the bombings.
I have been to Boston a few times, and like everyone else it seems, I have always found it an easy city to love. Whether it was the No Name Restaurant, the rich history, or the smorgasbord of smart students, the city just always had such a great vibe. But more than any of those things, what I really love about Boston are Bostonians. Friendly and outgoing, no-nonsense and strong, Bostonians always seemed to me to exemplify what it means to be an American.
Of course, being MrAllBiz, I took special note of the important role small businesses played after the bombings. Probably my favorite story was that of the juice bar that set itself up after the attack to be a way station for the needy. Offering folks a place to rest, and eat for free, to make a phone call to a loved one, or just regroup, the small shop showed why small business, like Boston, like Bostonians, like Americans, are special.
Many things make up the fabric of a society – big institutions and little traditions alike. Often overlooked I think is the vital role small business plays in the civic play. Think about it: What happens to a city or town when the downtown core goes vacant for some reason or another? Urban blight, that’s what.
At the center of almost every city and town that make those perennial “Best Places to Live” lists is an area made up of, you bet, local small businesses. That is as true in Boston as it is in Portland as it is in Boulder, San Antonio, San Diego, Raleigh, and Minneapolis. Small business not only creates a destination, it also provides a tax base, a sense of identity, jobs, and a community.
And when small businesses desert an area, what happens? The area suffers, big time. Whether it is Detroit (which, by the way is wooing back entrepreneurs these days with some great programs), or that mall down the way with all of the empty shops, the dearth of small business is often the death of a locale.
What local small businesses offer then is something that cannot easily be duplicated by either big business or national franchises. They are not the same. Oh sure, these companies want to be good citizens too for the most part and they do their darndest to try and fit in, but nothing beats local small businesses who have a pulse on the beat and the needs of a city and who in turn give a city an identity.
So, in many ways, small business is the community we talk about when we say we want to live in a place with a strong sense of community. The restaurants, the shops and stores, the cafes and bars, and all the rest are owned by our neighbors. They employ our sons and daughters and spouses and friends. They sell goods that are often made locally and the money they earn stays in the local economy. They know what you like and they sell it to you. They support the local Little League team, sponsor the regional NPR show, and give to the school that is having a tough time with its budget.
And so, in localities across this country, when times get tough – not as tough as they were in Boston last week for sure, but tough in other ways – it is the small business community that usually steps up to the plate. These idealistic, hard-working, creative, community-minded small business entrepreneurs are the Bostonians of the business world -- Friendly and happy, no-nonsense and strong.
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