Guest column Amy Cahillane: Ways to collectively invest in downtown

  • Amy Cahillane, the executive director for the Downtown Northampton Association, at the Pleasant-Main intersection. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 9/9/2019 7:00:11 PM

It’s not an easy time to own a small business. Rents are high. Wages, health insurance, credit card fees and other costs are climbing. And competition is fierce.

Pressure is intense to maintain not only a beautiful, brick-and-mortar space (with easy access to parking, of course), but to be active, creative and responsive on social media.

It’s not an easy time to be a consumer, either. Housing costs are high, food costs are rising and access to public transportation can be a challenge. Add the cost of raising children, and it’s hard to be able to afford to shop local, or to turn away from the ease of ordering online.

But our residential and retail communities both need each other for a place like Northampton to thrive. It would be easy for me to just say “shop local,” but it’s worth asking why — and recognizing that not everyone can (or wants to) shop local.

Why shop, eat local?

There’s the obvious. Shopping at the local, independent stores is a way of tangibly supporting them with your dollars. If people don’t shop local, businesses don’t last long.

But more than that, shopping locally supports folks who are trying to offer unique items — things that you won’t find at a big box store — and it sends a message that our community finds value in those creative products.

Store owners aren’t selling you something just to make money. They have selected unique items in the hopes that they are offering something special. Often, they are supporting the artists or creators behind those products as well.

You’re also likely to get more personalized customer service by shopping local. If you’re shopping in Artisan Gallery or The Blue Marble, you don’t have to look far to find someone to help you pick out a perfect gift, and if you’re wondering what the best item on the menu is at Belly of the Beast, the chef-owners are more than happy to steer you toward something magical.

By keeping your dollars local, you are helping to create and maintain jobs that employ your family, your friends and your neighbors. State Street Deli and Cooper’s Corner alone have employed hundreds of Northampton residents. Multiply that by an entire downtown retail and restaurant economy, and it’s quite an impact.

Not only that, but our local stores and restaurants are incredibly generous. They donate their goods, services, time and money to organizations within our community, not just large nonprofits.

Finally, shopping local keeps our community unique. You can find chain stores and fast-food restaurants anywhere in America, but there’s only one Cathy Cross, only one Homestead and no other Dirty Truth. By supporting these businesses, you are helping to ensure that our community isn’t just another strip mall.

Can’t afford to shop local?

But I can’t afford to shop local, or there’s nothing I want to purchase. I have heard this quite a bit, and I would offer a few thoughts.

There are other ways to support small business owners, even if you are not in a position to shop locally with frequency (or at all).

Like their pages on Facebook and follow them on Instagram. Like and share their posts to help publicize their businesses, sales and offerings.

Love a downtown business or restaurant? Write a review on Facebook or Yelp or share on social media!

Talk to store owners. Maybe they would carry items you are interested in if they knew there was a market for them. Talk to them anyway, even if you are not looking to suggest an item. Our store owners are an incredible, diverse group of individuals and co-operatives who have put down roots in Northampton.

Try and pick one or two items, or events, and shift your shopping locally for those items or times.

Try doing some of your grocery shopping downtown. If it doesn’t make sense to do your weekly food shopping downtown, maybe you can head to Cornucopia or Deals & Steals for those times when you only need a few things.

If you are treating yourself to coffee (or anything else), make an effort to pay cash. Debit cards are convenient, but the fees associated with this ease impact small businesses.

Join the Downtown Northampton Association! Participate in our community events, share your ideas and join in our downtown clean up. You can find more information on our website at

These actions will not, of course, change the larger problems that cities and towns across the country are facing. But they can create a stronger sense of shared community and collective investment in downtown Northampton, which feels more important than ever right now.

Amy Cahillane is the executive director of the Downtown Northampton Association.

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