How many of you recall Pete Plankers at the old Ben Franklin store on Cloquet Avenue? And how about Kenneth Johnson or Tom Prevost and Kenny Young at The Johnson Company just down the street? Or, just a hop, skip and a jump down the block, Jack Carter at Carter Appliance, John Buskala (or his dad) at Buskala Jewelry, or Don Erickson at Erickson's Hardware?
And if you still remember those people and businesses, you will no doubt recall how Pete Plankers always had a joke at the ready, or how Tom Prevost could be counted on to give a piece of candy to your kids from his "private stash," or the time Jack showed up to repair your refrigerator the day before Christmas when you had a houseful of company coming, or the day John sold an engagement ring to your son (just like he did to you) or the time Don kept the store open an extra 15 minutes just so you could swing by after work.
That's what small, locally owned businesses are all about. The fact that those of you who were around back then still remember those faces and kindly gestures — even though many of those faces are no longer here — shows that business is more about establishing personal relationships with customers than offering big, glitzy advertising campaigns, door buster specials or truckloads of merchandise.
It's the old "Cheers" philosophy of doing business "where everyone knows your name." You know the person behind the counter (and likely their family as well) and have done business with them before. You know they will stand by the merchandise they sell, and you know that follow-up service is just a phone call away (sometimes even on the weekend!).
That kind of hometown service isn't a thing of the past, although it’s might be considered a threatened species, a group of unique businesses that we need to cherish and help thrive.
The story of the Lemon Tree convenience and liquor store in this week’s paper is a case in point. The once thriving business took a hit when Super One Foods and Wal-Mart opened their own liquor stores and then a wave of Kwik Trip openings was the death knell for the Lemon Tree. Now the group of mostly retired men who have been gathering to have coffee and solve the world’s problems for decades will have to find a new local hangout when the convenience/liquor store closes at the end of the month and the store’s owner will have to find a new path forward.
But there are still many local businesses we can nurture instead of always looking for the cheapest buy. Places where service matters, and profits go back into our own community, not a corporate office far away.
The Johnson Company is gone but Scott Boedigheimer and his sons at Daugherty Appliance & Sleep, located in the same building, are still doling out friendly conversation and personal service. Zoe’s Boutique in Cloquet’s West End and Mainstream Boutique in downtown Cloquet both sell beautiful women’s clothing. John Buskala is still selling engagement rings and repairing watches for yet another generation of customers, and there’s a new owner — Julie Haverkamp — but still a friendly local face behind the counter at the former Erickson Hardware store, now Wood City Lights & Hardware in downtown Cloquet. And who could forget Bergquist Imports or the Rock Place in West End Cloquet? The list of local stores doesn’t end there, but we’re running out of space.
Prefer to shop for experiences? It isn’t only local retail stores you can support locally.
Why not purchase a gift card or certificate that will entitle the bearer to visit the local movie theater, attend a play at the Encore Theater or enjoy coffee, drinks or a dinner out at on of our many fine local restaurants? Give a massage, a haircut, a tattoo or a gym membership. For that matter, why not give the gift that keeps on giving each week of the year, and buy someone special a subscription to your local newspaper?
When you're tempted to get up from the table early this Thanksgiving Day to drive somewhere else to go shopping on Black Friday, or if you've decided to log on and do all of your shopping online this holiday season, take a moment to remember your friends just down the street and consider shopping at our local small businesses instead.
Instead of “Remember the Alamo,” we encourage you to “Remember the Lemon Tree,” and shop locally.
~ Pine Journal editor Jan