You don’t appreciate something until you’ve lost it. That’s what people say, anyways. I remember taking Phoebe to downtown Tacoma for her fourth birthday almost a decade ago. We went to the Hello Cupcake shop; she got a ballerina topper, then we sat on bright pastel furniture and watched through the big glass window as people walked by on Pacific Avenue.
A few months ago, Hello Cupcake permanently closed their doors. They aren’t the only business to do so. The Harmon Bar and Grill is gone, as is the University Bookstore, and those are just a handful of examples from the two block strip of the Tacoma downtown. Times are hard.
Now is when it really makes a difference where we invest our money. Spending with intention and thoughtfulness is what turns us from consumers into a community. So here are some thoughts on how you can show your appreciation for small businesses and mom-and-pop shops while they are still here:
1. Write your own wishlists.
During the pandemic, I wrote out a wishlist for my kids in email and directed people to Teaching Toys in Tacoma instead of funneling them to an online toy retailer. Our giftees just had to call up the store and place an order over the phone. Teaching Toys giftwraps for free and during the pandemic, they even did deliveries. It doesn’t hurt to ask what services your own local shops have available!
2. Ask local businesses for recommendations.
I don’t buy that many sneakers, so when I started wanting to run again, I asked Teaching Toys where to go. They sent me to Fleet Feet. This shop took the time to do a custom fitting over Facetime and mailed my new perfect pair of shoes, along with a generous return policy. Use your network to find new shops to support!
3. Pay Attention
So many restaurants are closing. Food prices have skyrocketed with inflation. To make matters worse, mom-and-pop restaurants have to compete on food apps with ghost kitchens. When you splurge on a delivery meal, take a moment to check and see if the kitchen you are ordering from is actually a brick and mortar place with tables and chairs and not one of the dozens of venture capitalist storefronts that are choking real restaurants out of business.
4. Shift your habits and routines
One app will deliver groceries. Another app will deliver fast food. Another will deliver you interpersonal connections. I think, however, that the experience of a task is just as important as its completion.
Try going into businesses to complete chores in person and see how it makes you feel. For me, going to the same store and talking to the same cashier has an impact on my psyche. It helps me feel less detached. Slow down and say yes to people you encounter in daily life. We can create our own village anywhere.
5. Be a tourist in your own home town
When I started telling people they could pick up my Calico Jill zine at Tinkertopia, I got a burst of excited texts from a friend. They are a local artist who has dreamed about finding a place where they could get together and craft with others using recycled materials since they were a child, and even though they have lived here for years, they didn’t realize it existed! Our hometowns often have hidden gems just like this. Ask around, do some research, and find new ways to fall in love with your hometown.
6. Seek out a Third Place
Everyone needs three places. The first place is where you live. The second place is where you work. The Third Place is where you play, where you relax, where you converse. It is a place where you go for no other reason than you want to be there.
King’s Books hosts book readings, community events and creative outreach programs. Do their books have a higher sticker price than online alternatives? Sometimes. But when I am in Tacoma’s Stadium district, I can visit King’s Books. I can walk around the aisles dreaming of all the adventures in the pages around me. I can see the books and touch them and sit in a cute chair and simply exist for a moment. Shopping there is an investment in joy.
7. Share Stories
When you shop locally, tell other people about it. Tell them how it makes you feel. Don’t just leave a review online, tell people in person about the places that matter to you. When you are in a small business, take a moment to listen to others talk about their lives, and to share your own life as well.
This is why I am not selling Calico Jill and the Search for Cheese online but encouraging people to go into small businesses to pick it up. I want to release my story with a new chapter coming out each month so that people have something to look forward to, something to share together. I want to give people a story to talk about. I don’t want to just make something or sell something; I want to invest in my community and cultivate moments of synchronized joy.
Hello Cupcake may never be back, but someday a new shop will open in its place. The last few years may have taken my ability to draw from me, but now that I’m finally painting again, I plan on appreciating it for as long as it lasts. I might not know what the future holds, but I can embrace my story today. We may have lost many things over the last couple years, but we are survivors.
Let’s build something to look forward to.
The above artwork is a new painting of mine titled Goodbye, Cupcake. It is Watercolor and Ink on 8×10 inch hot press watercolor paper. Collect the original painting by purchasing it from my online shop. Reproductions are not available.
If you like the words that I write or the art that I paint and you want me to create more, please support me on Patreon. Thank you.