Sunday, August 9

Thanks for Being My Local Business

This isn't the one I sent, but I do love making postcards.
This is an idea that's been building in me for a while: write a postcard to thank your local businesses.

A few years ago, I went to a kind of interactive arts performance/display at the Walker Art Museum. My friend Jenni, owner of Lunalux, custom letterpress print shop and stationery store, was running a project where people creatively designed postcards. Jenni had brought all sorts of fun materials—washi tape, old maps, cardstock, &c.—for participants to glue and reassemble in interesting displays. (I made one and thought I had a picture of it, but can't find it right now.)

But the twist was that Jenni had the idea to send these postcards to local businesses. The issue of supporting local business is an extremely important one currently, as (inter)national chain stores funnel money out of communities. Buy locally, and 2/3 of your money stays within the community. Obviously that's harder to adhere to when an online outlet offers merchandise you can't find around you, and I run into that often, but when you can, try to support your local stores.

And Jenni's idea was to mail these handmade postcards to local businesses, as a special "thank you" to these places. Because they offer a personalized experience: you're shopping for vinyl or commissioned outfits or original artwork from local artists or an avant craft bistro, and you're likely talking with the owner of the store. They want to know what you think, they're interested in every person who comes in their door. Not so with Target or Walmart, as much as their marketing claims otherwise.

So we made postcards, and we addressed them to local businesses... and we looked up their addresses in a freakin' hardcopy Yellow Pages, I shit you not. When's the last time you've done that? Organizations still print those things out and distribute them (one of my old temp jobs was updating sponsored content from the old Yellow Pages to the new edition), and as common as this was in my childhood, it was novel to actually flip through those flimsy pages and fight against their category system to find the place I wanted (a local ice cream salon), and peer with these dimming eyes at the tiny print to write out my address on my card.

I have no idea whether they liked it. I didn't see it posted up in their store, next time I went. But that's not the point: the point was for me to feel good about putting effort in expressing gratitude for a local business, and someone received that card, was mildly surprised and went "awww." Someone had to.

Recently, an efficient shortcut occurred to me. When you go out to a local business, whether you pay in cash or credit, you'll get a printout receipt for the transaction. Most people crumple it up or leave it in the vinyl folder it came in to the table, but save a copy. At least tear off the top of it, the part that has the business' address (and the server name, if you like). Bring that home, find a cute postcard, write out a little note of thanks (mention the server if they were good), and let them know you're glad they're in your neighborhood. Let them know what they add to your life by being there. I don't think that's asking a lot, five minutes and 45¢ (give or take) to say something nice to a hard-working local businessperson.

Write it out in the slow, dull moments of your day. Think about what mood you were in when you sought them out and how they satisfied your need. If they were new to you and you were merely curious, think about that experience of discovery. If  you've been going there for years and have come to rely on them as a local institution, think about that, too. This is an opportunity to be very present with your environment, as well as to reach out and brighten someone's day. Everyone likes to receive personal mail, opposed to all the wasteful crap we get, and anyone would like to hear something nice about their work.

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