Is it Shop Small Business Week?

I never pay attention. Because for me, and thousands of other Quad-Citians, every week is shop small business week.

And honestly, that should always be the case.

Local businesses aren’t just the economic and entrepreneurial life blood of an area, they offer you a world of new adventures you’re never going to find anywhere else. And if variety is the spice of life, the Quad-Cities offers you a pretty ample spice rack that’s full of delicious flavors for you to enjoy.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. I see your eyes rolling, “ANOTHER damn patronizing editorial about shopping local, blah blah blah…” and I know, I know, you don’t want the lecture. I know, I’m not your Dad. The DNA tests came back negative. I remember.
But this isn’t a patronizing editorial. Just the opposite. I’m telling you to shop local because you want the best. And you’re going to get that by shopping local.

In terms of performance, local is where it’s at, especially regarding theater and comedy. Everywhere from Circa ’21 to District Theater to Comedy Sportz is going to offer you terrific entertainment. And when it comes to eclectic, funky local shops, stops like Fred and Ethel’s, Major Art and Hobby and Tim’s Corner are bursting with vibrance and character.

Listen, I get it, nobody shops completely local all the time. Ok, maybe some hardcore people giving me the condescending snake eye now, and well, if that’s you, good for you. If you vape smoke signal me by the end of the week, your locally-hand-drawn certificate of pretentious hipness will be delivered by a locally-bred pigeon to your hobbit home to avoid the use of a printer or computer made outside of the Quad-Cities and a federal mail service based in Washington.

But as for the rest of us who live in a world that doesn’t include the phrase artisanal toilet paper, we shop a combination of local and chain. When I want my groceries, I predominantly go to HyVee (local), but if Aldi (big box) is having a big sale on produce, I’m going to go there to pick it up. (Hey, listen, you can’t beat 49 cents for avocados.)

I love my Theo’s and Cool Beanz, but sometimes I also get my daily caffeine fix at Caribou. I mostly cook at home, and typically when I go out to dinner, I go to a local restaurant like Blue Cat or Le Mekong or La Rancherita. But I’ve also eaten lunch at Subway and late on a Saturday night after the bars have closed I have been known to hit the Taco Bell drive-thru. I love Olde Town Bakery, but if they’re not open, I’ll roll Dunkin Donuts. If I’ve got the choice between a big box and a local business, I’m going to shop local, especially since they’re offering me something I can’t get anywhere else. And especially since I, myself, have been a local businessman for almost two decades. But I recognize that there are some items that are easier to pick up at a big box, and sometimes, especially when you’re in a rush, convenience rules.

And so it goes. It doesn’t make you a terrible person. Those big box stores do employ local people and their jobs are dependent upon our business. Well, okay, if you only shop big box and never shop local that does make you a terrible person, and one that should really get out and expand their world – trust me, you’ll thank me later for the restaurant recommendations here, and really, any of the local Mexican restaurants are terrific – but in my experience, those people are as rare as their opposites.

I’ve run local businesses for about 17 years now. I’ve run a local publishing company, ran a local magazine and two local websites, run two theater groups and comedy troupes and currently am a co-owner in the local online site you’re reading. I also run a local tutoring company that offers free help to at-risk kids, a local theater company and a local publishing company. As the operators of Theo’s, Cool Beanz, Blue Cat, Icons, HyVee, Olde Town Bakery, Tim’s Corner, La Rancherita, Major Art and Hobby and dozens of other local businesses can tell you, I’ve been a loyal local shopper for my entire time in the Quads.

So yeah, I’m biased towards local businesses. But it’s not just a political or ethical bias, it’s because those businesses offer awesome things. They’re not just great LOCAL businesses, they’re great BUSINESSES. They don’t need some sort of special treatment just because they’re the local guys, they should be treated with the same respect and regard as those big boxes, and, actually more, because they are pure entrepreneurs who have started from nothing and built it from the ground up, and they’re working their butts off to put out a quality product.

And they do. Nothing at Chili’s is going to match the specials at Blue Cat – and for the same price or less. (I recommend the meat loaf – damn great stuff.) The reason Chi Chis and Carlos O’Kelly’s went sombrero down is because people realized they could get much better and more authentic food from the myriad local Mexican restaurants around here. (I’m mostly a Habaneros, El Patron and La Rancherita guy, but all of them are great.) And while Applebee’s can advertise their giant, watered-down fishbowl drinks all they want, Icons martini bar is going to kick their butt on taste and quality every time. (The traditional martinis rock and for something different, the pineapple chipotle is freaking amazing.)

That’s why you should shop local. Not because they’re the little kid who strikes out every time that everyone cheers for because he makes the effort. Because they’re hitting home runs and hustling out every hit. Because they’re just as good if not better than the competition.

So do yourself a favor. Shop local, not just during small business week, but every week. It’s how you find unique flavor and it’s always an adventure to try those new things you’re never going to find anywhere else.Your new favorites await you . . .

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written almost 30 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.