I went for a walk in my old neighborhood the other day. I lived in Chicago’s Lakeview for about ten years. It’s a fun place with plenty of foot traffic, all kinds of shops, ethnic eateries and lots of cafes. It’s a prime destination for Black Friday.
I was heartened to see so many shops still thriving that I frequented 10, even 20 years ago. Places like SpareParts, which I will always remember because a good friend gave me a lovely hand painted scarf from there. Another favorite, The House of Fine Chocolates, stands delicious and inviting as ever. They do Chocolate with a capital “c.”
I couldn’t help smiling as I strolled past Reckless Records, recognizing that the reemergence of vinyl is being celebrated in some circles. Gotta be something there for that special someone. And then a look in the window of second-hand book shop Bookleggers, which has withstood the test of time. Even as a large Borders books just a block or so South closed, Bookleggers remains, serving its special book-loving customers.
My walk up Chicago’s North Broadway in the crisp autumn air reminded me of the many evenings and afternoons I’d spent browsing these shop windows. Finally lured inside, I’d explore a collection of wares that on best days felt as though it was handpicked just for me.
Hello — it’s us!
The shops seemed to ask: Where’ve you been, friend?
I’ve been in another neighborhood, Ravenswood, which is sprouting its own commercial strip on North Damen Ave. It’s not nearly as well established or diverse as Lakeview, but with the right care and tending by us neighbors, in ten years or so the cafes, restaurants, salons and other inspired retailers should be doing just fine. I’ve already seen a few rounds of merchants come and go – but this latest batch seems more savvy than the last. I admit, sheepishly, that I’ve also been spending time visiting the merchants on the continent that is the Internet. Sorry. But who isn’t?
You know I wish you well, Lakeview. I just needed to be reminded and lured from my Ravenswood nest a little bit South.
So here’s a little nudge for you shoppers. On this upcoming Black Friday, when we’re all urged to do our civic duty for the economy by going holiday shopping, be a good neighbor and find that special gift by shopping local. Give the digits a rest and the feet a workout. Yeah, we’ll all visit a big box or two this holiday season, but with dollars so hard to come by it’s nice to spend them where we know they’ll be put to good use.
And those of you who are neighborhood businesses, I love walking into your shops, but please in the next year move a bit out of your comfort zone to remind me online why I love what you do. Keep it simple — perhaps a Facebook page where you recount the seasonal classics or the cool album that’s now available on vinyl. Or offer a Four Square special on that holiday delicacy you can’t find anywhere else. Make my day – lure me!
Best of all, while you’re at it, give yourself a present by attending a Trib U class on Social Media for Small Business. Social media – from Facebook to FourSquare to Yelp to Google+ — will be less scary once you understand the principles and tools, which allow you — with a small investment of time — to engage your customers in such a way that they become your advertisers. Doesn’t that sound grand?
And local business, just so you know I’m firmly in your court. I’m a supporter of BALLE, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, which presents “Buy Local Week” starting Nov. 25 as an alternative to big box shopping. Through this organizing event, many of 80+ local business networks across the US and Canada help locally owned businesses work together to increase the local economic impact of holiday spending. Check it out and see what might be happening in your community. Here in Chicago, our Local First network has launched UnWrap Chicago. I hope to see your around.
Here’s a little nudge and inspiration, Todd Rundgren’s “Hello – It’s me,” which reminds me that while a relationship might change, the initial attraction remains, binding us together over time. Kind of like me and my old neighborhood. All that’s needed to pull me back is an outstretched hand or a great holiday special.