More than Fast Food

The Opinions of Herrin’s Local Businesses.
TeaZenTea is only one of the myriad small businesses Herrin has to boast of.
TeaZenTea is only one of the myriad small businesses Herrin has to boast of.
Photography, Caden Green

If one were to drive along Park Avenue or scroll on Facebook, they would be hard-pressed to fail to find a family-owned and operated business. Herrin has always been home to numerous small businesses.  Yet, with late-stage capitalism, more and more corporations can be seen in the act of aggressively fighting family businesses. 

“Some months you may make lots of money, some months you make not much at all,” says Mrs. Kristin LaBotte, owner of Southern Roots Photography.  “One day, the business is through the roof.  The next day, business is completely dead… when you’re in a small town, it does make it difficult to forecast what your numbers will be,” says Jason Stemm.

The corporations that threaten small businesses do not have that uncertainty.  They can be sure of monthly, quarterly, and yearly income and, if not, they often terminate workers they find essential so they can save money. 

Nevertheless, Herrin still boasts a host of small businesses that, despite the challenges, thrive. 

These businesses are only made by the community supporting them.  This aforementioned community is one constant positive noted in the responses of five small businesses—TeaZenTea, Stemm’s Café and Coffee Shoppe, Cakes By Ally, Southern Roots Photography, and Unique Geek Gaming Lounge. Even so, each business presents—through their unique responses—certain general trends in the small businesses of Herrin, Illinois. 

“It’s not everywhere that you go that people walk into your door and you know their name and you’re going to see them multiple times… here in Herrin, we’re so supportive,” says Ally Silvestre, a born and raised Herrinite, who runs the Cakes By Ally bakery.

However, Unique Geek (a gaming lounge on 101 West Cherry Street) commented that “getting the community together is definitely a challenge.”  Unique Geek certainly is an outlier amongst businesses that offer mainly food and drink.  They offer a place for gamers to meet, providing an important area in the increasing loss of third spaces seen about the world.

With that community in mind, ninety HHS students answered a form regarding Herrin’s small businesses.  Twenty commented that they go to small businesses quite often, while sixteen said they hardly visit family-owned shops.  Thirty-four said they have a friend or family member who works at a small business.  A further fifty-two confessed that they know someone who owns or operates a family business.  Finally, an overwhelming seventy-nine said they want to see more small businesses in Herrin. 

“They [small businesses] help get new and interesting products for those in town.  They also allow for economic growth,” comments one student.  

Another said: “Small businesses allow for the free market to be everchanging and not a stagnant wasteland like the current U.S. economy.  Things like planned obsolescence don’t work as well when there are small competitors.”

Jason Stemm, whose co-owned business takes part in many community events (from sponsorships to Christmas events), says “Some collaboration and teamwork with other businesses would be pretty neat to do… we also need to have more visibility.  As far as allowing people to know who the businesses are here, cause there are more businesses than you see here on Park Avenue.” 

A Chamber of Commerce is a town’s body that organizes businesses in order to advance the goals of those businesses.  “When I first moved to Herrin, the Chamber didn’t do a great job of bringing in different programs and things to help small business owners,” says Mrs. LaBotte.  But now “they’re bringing in programs and they’re bringing in people to educate small business owners on what they can do for their business,” she continues.

Such a change is certainly positive, as most businesses do not automatically have the resources to do the responsibility of a Chamber of Commerce.

The fact of the matter is that small businesses are consistently threatened and outpaced by larger ones.  A community about a small business is the entity sustaining businesses’ lives.  

So, instead of stopping by McDonald’s before school, run by Stemm’s for a cup of coffee.  Instead of buying a factory-made dessert for your party, call Ally Silvestre.  Consider finding others who enjoy playing the same games as you at Unique Geek.  Leave your special moments in the hands of Mrs. LaBotte.  When you’re with your friends, consider a cup of boba at TeaZenTea and some board games.  When a community comes together to support its local businesses, it invariably grows in its communion between its members and its overall prosperity.

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