Community corner: Shop local to make big impact

By Drew Johnson

If you’ve been following this column in the past few months, you know that we’ve talked a lot about helping our neighbors – checking in on senior neighbors, reimagining the holidays to include new traditions and people, about joining the community around us. But one thing that we often forget about in this age of ordering online are the small business owners who need our support.

I recently dipped my toe into selling my honey (figuratively, of course – no real toes involved!). I cannot tell you how supported I felt by each like, share, and comment on social media, and by every person willing to pay a bit more than they would at a big box store to support something local and support ME. I talked to and caught up with people I hadn’t seen for years. I am glad I did it, but it was also a lot of work. Truth be told, I was relieved when I finally sold out.

On reflection, the experience was great – I experienced a tiny slice of what it means to run your own business. I now more deeply understand – and appreciate – the incredible work and thought that goes into product development, customer service, operating hours, and policy decisions at the small businesses I visit.

All around us here in South County is an array of great small businesses – restaurants, breweries, boutiques, and shops. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed getting to know their proprietors and now after my own experiences, admire even more their willingness to put themselves out into the world in a way that I could only play at for a few months.

These establishments are run by our neighbors. And now more than ever our local businesses – and the families that run them – need our support more than ever. It’s easy to think these places will always be around, but with the rise of Amazon and the dominance of big boxes, many local businesses are struggling. Did you know that in 2020 alone the U.S. lost 29% of its small businesses? Nearly one third of our mom-and-pop shops – gone. Many of those remaining are struggling with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic.

We risk losing more if we don’t support local businesses and our neighbors who run them. Spending our dollars at these establishments also drives our local economy by keeping money right here in South County. Plus, with these homegrown operations often comes better service and more unique products than the larger cookie-cutter companies offer.

This holiday season I’ll be shopping and buying local wherever I can – to support my community, our local economy, and my neighbors. Will you join me?

Drew Johnson is the director at South County Community Services, the area’s only human service organization supporting low-income residents and seniors living in southern Kalamazoo County. He lives on an idyllic quarter-acre homestead with chickens, bees, and hops (and more!), a wonderful wife, and three energetic children. He can be reached at 649-2901 or

Leave a Reply