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Main Spotlight: What Does Supporting Local Really Look Like?

December 3, 2019 | What Does "Supporting Local" Really Look Like? |
wytheville_1.pngGrand opening picture of Downtown Wytheville’s newest jewelry store P.R Sturgill’s

The December theme of the We Are Main Street campaign is Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs. We encourage you to showcase all those who make your commercial district thrive using #WeAreMainStreet this month...and beyond. As Todd Wolford, Executive Director of Downtown Wytheville Inc. (Va.), emphasizes in this week's Main Spolight, small businesses and entrepreneurs in our communities need our support year-round, not just during the holiday season.

We’ve all heard the term “support local.” It is promoted throughout the small business landscape and celebrated by consumers on social media platforms around the nation. But are we really supporting local in a way that helps small business remain sustainable and thriving in our local communities? We see the hashtags and the pictures of someone “shopping small,” but are we continually supporting local and making a difference to sustainably support small business in our respective communities? This is the question we must ask ourselves.

Small business directly represents your community. I could go on and on about this very topic, and as Main Street organizations, we wouldn’t do what we do on a daily basis if we didn’t believe this. I am of the belief that the health of small business is a direct reflection of the overall well-being of a community. We live in a world of cell phones and technology that makes everything easier and more accommodating every day. In turn, this has disabled for many the need to socially interact and gather in spaces that promote connectivity, because we are now a click away from everything we could ever need. But there are still many consumers who want an experience, an interaction, a place to socialize and gather; that is where small business and downtowns can thrive. We as communities have to cultivate the atmosphere that makes us unique. In a world where people are plugged in 24-7, many folks still want that one-off experience--something they can’t get anywhere else. Main Streets and downtowns facilitate and create that opportunity as explained in the recently released Main Street America member publication, The Future of Retail: Creative Approaches to Place-Based Entrepreneurship.

Creating an experience destination is essentially the goal in small towns and Main Street districts across America. In my travels, I have seen some do it really well, and others who have totally missed the opportunity. I think this is what we can all relate to as Main Street directors in our respective communities. We can change the landscape and promote opportunities through public and private investment, but if we are not creating an experience or a sense of place for our locals and visitors alike, we are missing the boat. More and more people want to live, shop, and play, and downtowns can’t be replicated when it comes to that factor. We need to communicate, share ideas, and learn from communities who do it well and focus on areas of improvement that can help implement change locally. As representatives of organizations that are promoting and cultivating change, we know this doesn’t happen overnight, as much as the general public wants to believe it does. Things of this nature take time to envision, create, and implement. We sometimes refer to it as the “all in” strategy here. If everyone is all in with a vision to achieve a positive end result, we can virtually overcome and achieve anything.

wytheville_2.pngChau’s Corner bakery and Seven Sisters Brewery were two of the our winners of the the Evolution Wytheville small business competition.

Promoting the “support local” initiative is something that we celebrate as an organization on a daily basis. We value strong partnerships with the business community. As an organization that promotes positive change, we must further and promote that vision to our small business community through incentives, entrepreneurship development, events, and other services that help support and sustain our local business. You will often find Main Street staff in the businesses, working one-on-one with business and property owners to identify issues and be a catalyst to find solutions when situations arise, all the while, building trust and advocating this initiative. I think that’s where Main Street organizations differ from other organizations: we are hands on, in the trenches with businesses, creating solutions, sometimes going further than we should to support a business or property owner, but that’s okay. We need to be able to say we did everything we could to educate and help our small business community, and good organizations go the extra mile. We need to treat our organizations as a business and we are what we advocate and promote, so we shouldn’t view ourselves any differently than those we support. We need them as much as they need us.

Supporting local is more than just a hashtag, it is a lifestyle. We have all seen those who post a picture on social media, usually around Small Business Saturday or the holiday shopping season showing their support for local businesses. Of course this is great and the cool, hip thing to do is “support local,” but are these folks supporting more than one or two days a year? Many often claim to support local, but are they really supporting to the level that truly helps a small business remain sustainable for the long term? That’s the question we must ask ourselves. The majority of the time the answer is “not exactly.” As consumers, we must make a conscious effort to do so. As eluded to earlier, the world is becoming a one-click society and that is honestly not a good thing when it comes to supporting and sustaining local. It is really much more than just small business; we are supporting local families, and we are aiding in supporting our local economy. It is about keeping that dollar local, as it travels and makes much more of an impact locally than the alternative. So whether you think you support local or you can truly say you do, we must always remember to make a conscious effort to think local, and buy local first if the option is available. It is literally what keeps a community alive and thriving!

This summer, Brookings featured an article written by Jenna Temkin, Associate Manager of Marketing and Outreach at NMSC, on how Wytheville is using entrepreneurship to boost its local economy. Check it out here to learn more about this Virginia Main Street Community. 

Author Bio
I am Todd Wolford, Executive Director of Downtown Wytheville Inc. I have served in this position for four years. I have learned more in those four years than any other time in my career about people, personalities, and politics. I continue to educate myself on all things community revitalization and have just completed the Community Transformation advanced principles and Leadership development courses offered through the Main Street America Institute. I am currently part of a regional emerging leadership program called Rise SWVA. I have spoken at the last two Main Street Now Conferences on community revitalization and entrepreneurship and have proposed a session at the upcoming conference in Dallas, Texas, about our “all in” strategy here in Downtown Wytheville. I have a passion for the outdoors, leading a healthy lifestyle, and helping create a sense of place in my own community.​​​