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The Antidote to Wal-Mart: Shop and Dine in Local Stores & Restaurants

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Published on Tuesday, December 21, 2004 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune,

Local Shops an Antidote to Big-Box Economy

by Jay Walljasper

The big shopping news this holiday season is that Wal-Mart is coming to town
with three "supercenters," where a huge grocery is grafted onto a gigantic
discount store. There is wide speculation this will shake up the local
business community, perhaps creating problems for smaller retailers like
Target or Rainbow Foods.

Many locally owned stores simply shut their doors at the first sign of
Wal-Mart, rather than prolong the misery of trying to compete against this
invincible giant. You can see the results in boarded-up Main Streets and
neighborhood shopping districts across the continent. This seems the
inevitable march of economic history, with independent businesses being
trampled everywhere.

But that's not what I see looking around my neighborhood in south
Minneapolis. We've seen an inspiring small business revival over the past 10
years as new shops and eateries pop up in underused storefronts.

At Nicollet and 43rd, a few blocks from my house, I've got Roadrunner
Records, where you'll find few CDs by the likes of Britney Spears, Alan
Jackson or Eminem. But almost every other musical genre imaginable -- from
Renaissance dances to Cajun classics to obscure gems of grunge rock -- is in
abundance. Across the street is Anodyne, a bustling coffee shop that I have
never once entered without spotting a friend, neighbor or old acquaintance.
Down the street is Odds N Ends, an antique store with an impeccable
collection of topnotch bric-a-brac, curious paintings and a broad selection
of great old rugs -- at prices you can actually afford.

Strolling a different direction from my house brings you to Grand and 38th,
home of Bakery on Grand, whose baguettes and semolina loaves are so good I'm
convinced low-carb diets are a crime against humanity. Then there's Victor's
1959 Café, a cool Cuban diner where a sign directs you to booths on either
the left wing (Che posters) or the right wing (Free Elian posters).
Catty-corner from there is the Fairy Godmother store, a marvelous selection
of books, gifts and other fun and inspiring items that remind us the world
is still full of magic and mystery.

And speaking of mystery, down the block stands an inscrutable junk shop
with no formally agreed-upon name, a live-in owner who is open only when the
mood strikes him, and precariously steep piles of pop culture treasures all
around, from '50s magazines to old lunchboxes. He also sells solar power
supplies over the Web. Go figure.

Right around the corner from me at 42nd and Grand is Caffe Tempo, a
congenial coffee shop where last week my wife Julie and I ordered $11.06
worth of breakfast, tea and greeting cards before realizing neither of us
had brought a wallet.

"Don't worry, " said the smiling clerk, "just bring it the next time."

Imagine that happening at a Wal-Mart supercenter, Starbucks or any other
chain more beholden to distant stockholders than its neighbors and

Places like Caffe Tempo and Roadrunner Records are the social and
commercial backbone of our communities. They also expose the lie that
independent stores are a thing of the past destined to go the way of the
horse-and-buggy. Neighborhoods across town are now flourishing with vital
and valuable locally owned businesses. The entrepreneurial urge in Americans
is strong and can only be extinguished if folks like you and me turn our
backs on small, distinctive stores in favor of big, boring boxes.

So if you don't want to see our towns totally overrun by Wal-Marts, Burger
Kings and Old Navys, then stand up for your local merchants by visiting
their stores and buying something. And right now, with holiday shopping in
full swing, there's no better time to do it. The future of your community
depends on it.

Jay Walljasper is executive editor of Ode magazine and strategic
communications director for Project for Public Spaces.

© 2004 Star Tribune