Small Town Shopping: Support It or Lose It

Lighted Stuff sign at Coker Tire Company Museum Chattanooga TN (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Stuff at Coker Tire Company Museum Chattanooga TN (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

There is a lot of hoopla during year-end holiday season about shopping at the locally-owned, independent businesses that make a town or city unique and interesting.

But what about the rest of the year?

Consistently supporting such businesses takes a mindset; a willingness to consciously seek out those merchants (often located downtown, where parking may be a bit of a pain) rather than turn your car toward the familiar strip mall or big box store.

The good news for travelers is that we rarely go someplace to check out their strip malls or their version of Bed, Bath, & Beyond, because we can get that at home. Those cities that built giant outlet malls on the outskirts? The ones that all have the same stores? The appeal is lost on me.

Small local businesses – the places that are so key to making a destination worth visiting – need year-round support and referrals if they are to thrive. I’m not looking to blow my budget, and heaven knows my house already has enough crammed into it, but I do try to make it a point to explore local stores when I travel, especially when they’re in lively downtown core areas like these:

Attic Gallery in Vicksburg, Mississippi

First, you grab a cup of coffee downstairs at the Highway 61 Coffeehouse.

The Highway 61 Coffeehouse has your brew all ready in downtown Vicksburg MS (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The Highway 61 Coffeehouse has your brew all ready in downtown Vicksburg MS (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Then, you walk up the wooden stairs just off the entryway to the coffee shop, and in about five minutes, realize that you’re going to be there awhile.

Attic Gallery folk art in downtown Vicksburg MS (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Attic Gallery folk art in downtown Vicksburg MS (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

It’s the Attic Gallery, full of Mississippi folk art of every description. Walls of it. Tables of it. Shelves of it.

Unfortunately for you, owner Lesley Silver knows everything about every piece and the artist who created it.

I tried the old, “I’m traveling and my suitcase is full” routine, but by the time she’d told me stories about a sculpture, a painting, and a bronze necklace, I decided that, yes, that necklace would go with a top I had back home and yes, it would certainly fit into my suitcase.

Necklace from the Attic Gallery in downtown Vicksburg, Mississippi (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Necklace from the Attic Gallery in downtown Vicksburg, Mississippi (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I wear it often and think of the Gallery and of Vicksburg.

Mad World Records in Denton, Texas

With the annual worldwide Record Store Day coming up in April, it’s a good time to explore indie record shops, so I spent part of an afternoon flipping through albums at Mad World Records in downtown Denton, north of Fort Worth.

It’s a fun, friendly, music-loving college town thanks to the prestigious University of North Texas College of Music.

The new arrivals are in front of the store at Mad World Records in downtown Denton TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The new arrivals are in front of the store at Mad World Records in downtown Denton TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Yes, I bought some vinyl, but I don’t think my turntable and needle can quite handle this configuration….

Bowl made from a vinyl record at Mad World Records in downtown Denton TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Bowl made from a vinyl record – Stevie Ray Vaughan, of course – at Mad World Records in downtown Denton TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

You’ll find recent albums in Mad World, not just old or used ones, because there is a growing movement toward making and selling actual records. Did you know Taylor Swift’s 1989 LP sold more than 33,000 copies?

We have artisanal food, beer, wine, and coffee – consider vinyl “artisanal music” and when you travel, look for the places that sell it.

Mike Bjorn’s in Kenosha, Wisconsin

Family-owned Mike Bjorn’s Fine Clothing for men is the kind of local shopping experience that single-handedly MAKES a trip.

They take pride in carrying everything from “mild to wild.”

Window display Mike Bjorn's downtown Kenosha WI (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Good deals and rocking socks in the window display at Mike Bjorn’s downtown Kenosha WI (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I’ve never seen anything like it – you could spend hours in here, even if you’re female.

I’d already chatted with co-owner Brett Bjorn and picked out a bunch of socks for my husband and son, when I decided that I couldn’t resist replacing a long-lost black men’s tuxedo jacket that I used to wear in college during my vintage clothing phase. It took an experienced staff person about three nanoseconds to eyeball my approximate jacket size, then grab and lay out some options. After a quick assessment of lapel styles and pockets, I picked out a free pocket square to go with the jacket and was on my way.

It took considerable mental strength to ignore David Bowie-wannabe impulses and get out of the Rock Star and Professional Entertainer jacket section….

Go wild in the Rock Star and Professional Entertainer jacket section at Mike Bjorn's in downtown Kenosha WI (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Go wild in the Rock Star and Professional Entertainer jacket section at Mike Bjorn’s in downtown Kenosha WI (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Don’t miss the downstairs basement, where there are even more jackets, plus dress shoes galore.

Tux shoe display in the basement at Mike Bjorn's in downtown Kenosha WI (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Tux shoe display in the basement at Mike Bjorn’s in downtown Kenosha WI (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Like all the best local, independent stores, Mike Bjorn’s knows who they are and what they stand for. They’re not right for everybody, but for the right people, they’re simply perfect.

Telling it like it is in the basement at Mike Bjorn's in downtown Kenosha WI (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Telling it like it is in the basement at Mike Bjorn’s in downtown Kenosha WI (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Shops like that have earned my business when I travel, and hopefully yours as well.

(If you like this post, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS feed or by email – the email signup box is at the top of the right sidebar near the Search box. Thanks!)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.