Swaine: Being the opposite of ‘Generica’

Why we should treasure small & local

Some months ago, I travelled to Dallas to a workshop on Strong Towns. As attendees crowded into the too-small conference room, I discovered the other folks sitting in the impressive collection of uncomfortable chairs were a smorgasbord of elected officials, urban planners, a couple of developers and a significant smattering of folks with good ideas but no title or position.

One of the people from Dallas talked about the monotonous sameness of many cities, how many areas had become “Generica.” I had not heard that term before but knew immediately the type place she was referring to…the sea of concrete, beige, and big box, suburbs that all look the same; towns that merge into one other with no seeming beginning or end.

Ironically, the office complex/apartment building/shopping center on Mockingbird Lane that hosted us looked like every other center we had passed in getting there, populated only by chain stores. We were sitting in the middle of Generica, a shopping center destined for nothing better, whose best days were right then.

Liz Swaine

We talked about ways to avoid Generica, of how an area’s identity comes from the small and local businesses that are unique, meaningful and memory-making.

These are the businesses that cut through the ‘sameness’ of the chains, the ones run by people who have invested in the area for the long term.

These are also the businesses that are in the fights of their lives against mouse clicks that can deliver cheaply-made goods with no customer service to your door, with free shipping.

These are the restaurants and watering holes scrambling for customers against the better-funded, intensely marketed and remotely-headquartered chains.

These are also the businesses that touch hearts as well as minds and create the memories that stay with us.

Let’s support them!

With the holiday shopping season nearly upon us, we’re going to be hearing more about the importance of shopping local.  Let’s make a pinky pledge to do just that.

Try local first, go to a store, talk to a local businessperson or vendor, buy from a local artist, hire a local craftsperson, eat at a little café that you can only find up your street or around your corner.

In eating and shopping well, we support our friends, our neighbors, our community, and ultimately, ourselves. What’s not to like about that?

Liz Swaine is executive director of the Shreveport Downtown Development Authority