The little ones

Each time you shop you have a decision to make. Will you purchase something on-line? Will you go to one of the big box stores? Will you support local businesses the little guys? There is even a day that focuses on small businesses. People are invited to shop the small local merchants who contribute so much to the local economy.

In my day there were mostly small family-owned stores. When I think of the landscape of the downtown area I think about the families that ran businesses. In Dunkirk there were two business sections. The largest one was on Central Avenue. The smaller one was on Main Street. Most of our Christmas shopping was done at these small family-owned stores. The one exception was a J. C. Penney that was in the downtown section.

My first job was in a small store owned by the Sidey family. The day after I turned sixteen I went to the store to apply for a Christmas job. I applied nowhere else. That is where I really wanted to work. It took a while, but finally I heard from the manager that I had a job. I was to report to the store on the day after Thanksgiving. Imagine that stores waited until after Thanksgiving to begin the Christmas season!

I was assigned to the gift wrap section which also handled notions such as thread and yarn. If I was not busy wrapping gifts, I was supposed to make bows so we had them when we needed them. If the clerk from the men’s department was busy I was expected to step in there; the same with the children’s department.

They were very nice people to work for. They even invited us to their home for a Christmas party. They were not the exception in the day. That was how the small businesses worked. Our little town was filled with them.

There was The Safe store another general department store and Jayne’s a women’s store. There were several places to eat since they expected you to go from store to store spending a lot of time and money there. There was West Drug that had the best chili, the snack bar at Kresge’s that made me lemon cokes, and another drug store that catered to ice cream. The favorite spot was Candyland. You could get a lunch there or just hot chocolate or ice cream.

One store had magazines and comic books along with the daily newspapers. My great aunt worked there so we often stopped in just to visit or to pick out a comic book. If I had saved all of those comics they would probably be worth something today.

There was also a little bakery that made delicious cheese bread and coconut macaroons. They also had a small gift section. The Christmas manger scene that my daughter inherited was purchased there.

My mother and her sister “shopped” every Friday night. Actually, it was a social occasion. They always stopped for something to eat as well.

The second business section had several clothing stores. A couple of them were also owned by local residents. Ludlum’s Variety store was there as well. They were something like a five and ten cent store. They had many unique items so we shopped there often. They also posted the answer to one of the local radio station’s quiz shows. My grandmother made me run in to see what the answer was so she could be ready. She actually won that contest several times and received some very nice prizes.

When I moved to the farm my shopping spot changed. Since I am halfway between Warren and Jamestown I shopped in both areas. It depended what I was looking for. My wedding dress came from Bigelow’s department store. That is another small store. Then, there were Nelsons and Lerners. There was also a Grant’s store at that time.

We parked in Bigelow’s parking lot because we always made a purchase there and they validated the ticket. We also shopped at Fannie Farmer’s. I loved the creamy mints and the wonderful suckers. I usually got to pick the flavors I liked.

In Warren I shopped at Levinsons and Betty Lee. All of the stores were small family owned businesses. I shopped while my children took their guitar lessons at another local store, Biekarck’s Music Store.

The message here is that there are still wonderful small family-owned stores that deserve our patronage. No matter where you live you can find those small stores and patronize them. While the large stores may be convenient, they do not contribute to the local economy as much as the little guys.

When sporting organizations need sponsors they seek out the small businesses because they will be sponsors. They do not have to ask corporate headquarters first.

When charitable organizations need contributions they solicit the small businesses. Those small businesses come through with prizes and donations. They feel like they are part of the community and they are. They are a very important part of it.

This year when you are making out your shopping list see what you might be able to purchase locally through the many small businesses that exist. These are the people who live in the community. Their children go to school with your children. They go to your church. They attend many functions throughout the community.

Do not let the big guys force these little guys out. Even your food can be purchased at local outlets. Look for them and support them. If it comes from a local farm that farmer and his family will spend what they make in the community.

If we want a strong local economy we must be willing to support these little guys. A cyber-economy will do nothing for the locality. We need to protect our stores.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at