The conversation over pie for breakfast in a tiny local cafe started with Mike telling me how small town retail, at least in his town of 1100, was really something from the past.
“They’d have to have some kind of economy of scale to survive now,” he said.
“No,” I said. “In fact, the smaller they are, the better.”
He looked at me kinda funny. (I actually like it when that happens.)
“If we walk out of this cafe, up the street to that empty retail building I saw,” I said, “and we wanted to make it into retail we could do it two ways. We could look for one person to buy the building, rehab it and bring it up to code, fill it with one store, buy their inventory, manage their money, do the marketing, and do all the things it takes to survive, but we’d be asking a lot of one person.
“But if you got together with four friends, and you made a cooperative and bought the building, rehabbed it, and divided it into 20 little booths,” I said, using the little business card sized ads on the diner’s paper place mat to illustrate, “each of these little shops could be run by a different person. Maybe the 4H kids are selling plants they raised, and the FFA students weld up something in their classes that they could sell. They can fill a booth. Then there’s that artist who couldn’t ever afford to have her own gallery space, but she could fill just one wall. You could hang bookshelves on another wall and make it a tiny bookstore. There’s probably some guy carving ice fishing lures who needs a space.”
“There is a guy here who spent all winter carving fishing lures just to keep busy,” Mike said. “I asked him what he was going to do with them all, and he said he would probably just give some away to friends or something.
“You know I thought one time about opening an antique mall,” he said. “I did a lot of research on it, but I never thought about applying it to regular retail.”
“Just don’t call it regular retail,” I said. “Talk about tiny retail, hobbies and pop-ups. You don’t want to scare people into thinking they can’t do it. Because the point is that they can.”
Mike looked thoughtful as we left. I think he’s going to try it. Keep shaping the future of your town, Becky
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