It's easy these days to despair at the state of the economy, and here in the US, it's easy to despair about the state of our government, health care, education, and myriad social woes. Empty storefronts, foreclosures, and unemployment are rampant. In the face of these crises, however, I see certain trends that give me hope. One is that some folks are finally cutting back on out-of-control spending; another is that some families are rediscovering simpler pastimes (like the old board games I mentioned in G is for Games); a third is that some civic-minded individuals are recognizing the value of our old main streets as a place to gather, shop, and spend time.
I'll say it right here: I hate shopping malls and chains. They kill the souls of small towns and mid-sized cities. They destroy the sense of a communal center, a solid, real, and enduring civic anchor. When towns become endless corridors of strip malls and parking lots, what is left in which we can take pride? If every town has a Chili's and a Starbuck's and a Walmart, and if all of those businesses are housed in cinderblock and corrugated metal excuses for buildings, what makes one town indistinguishable from another? If beauty and enduring value are traded in for convenience and instant gratification, any sense of investment in community and heritage is destroyed. In fact, what we are left with is nothing but empty consumerism.
When I have the alternative of buying a freshly baked scone from a local baker, he will always win over Panera. And when there's the option of getting a cup of coffee at a local cafe, forget about Starbucks. The indie places I frequent source as much as possible from local suppliers (other indies!); they give back to their communities; and perhaps just as importantly, they give us all a sense of belonging. Back in the 1980's one of the most popular US television shows was Cheers. People loved that show about a local Boston bar because, it's true, sometimes you do "want to go where everybody knows your name."
I don't usually use my blog as a soap box, but the first word that came to my mind when I thought about the letter I was "independent," and I thought about all the indie bookstores, cafes, restaurants, grocers, farmers, merchants of various wares, and craftspeople that I love. In my own town of Lowell, Massachusetts, these intrepid folks make me proud to be a part of the community, and in the many other towns and cities I visit, they are what draws me onto a main street and makes me want to get to know the place better. In some cases, they make me fall hopelessly, irreversibly in love with a place (as in Portland, Maine, or Savannah, Georgia!). No TGIFridays or Dunkin' Donuts has ever, ever done that to me!
I just want to mention one such indie place that knocks my socks off every time I go there: Frontier Cafe, Cinema, and Gallery in Brunswick, Maine. If you visit coastal Maine, I cannot recommend it highly enough for the great food, the baked goods, the beer & wine and coffees, the movie house, and the art. Who could ask for more? Housed in a wonderful old mill (you know me and old mills) on the Androscoggin River, it is a very hip yet comfy place to spend an afternoon or watch a great indie film--double the indie fun!
Thanks for letting me sing the praises of indies. I want to spread the word about them whenever I can. The more we each of us invests in our own local economies, the more we support the growth of unique, responsible, and cool places in our towns and cities. So, that said, what indie businesses do you love?
the beverage bar at Frontier
a comfy corner--
shortly after I took this shot a group of friends
looking out a window toward the bridge spanning the Androscoggin