Local Businesses and Giving Back to the Community: Curious Conversations
On Tuesday, October 5, the latest Curious Conversations panel gave the spotlight to local women entrepreneurs. Six different women with all manner of different professional experience invited participants to ask them anything about their jobs, how they met each other and wound up in their current jobs, or even just anything about their professions and work ethics. The perspective of ordinary women aiming to make a living, whilst contributing something unique to the Georgetown community, could teach us a few things about how (and why) to give back to smaller, more local businesses.
The six women on the panel came to represent three small businesses: Lark & Owl Booksellers, a bookstore dedicated to providing a comfortable place to read and socialize during the early and late hours of the day; The Exchange of Georgetown, a consignment for buying and reselling jewelry and accessories; and LIV & Leaf, a company that helps aspiring houseplant owners with delivering, caring for, and even naming their beloved new plant projects.
Each of the six entrepreneuring women comes from a different background in terms of education and personal challenges, such as Misty, an art history/education graduate from the University of Texas who overcame long struggles with underselling her own value, and is today a designer and visual maintenance expert at Lark & Owl. Also of note, Amy became a teacher straight out of college, and became a stay-at-home mom after giving birth.
Amy was not the only member of the panel to note how having kids requires one to realistically assess the limits of what they can do with their career. Other panelist and business partner Heather came up and offered for her to join in on her new plant-care idea at LIV & Leaf one day during the pandemic, and she is thriving alongside it today, even as she keeps up with being a mom.
The individual stories of these entrepreneuring women show how far the push for women to thrive in the working world has come, not to mention the success their businesses have had from leaning on one another as business partners. Their work ethics and personal lessons they shared with panel participants shed light on the value local-run businesses have for smaller communities. Jane, general manager for Lark & Owl, recounts how in towns of small to medium size, individuals and small groups actually have the power to affect change in the community and see those changes firsthand.
To that effect, Jane also advised that those looking to contribute to their community in similar ways should start by simply “[finding] some way to be valuable, paid or not”; assessing the community’s needs to find a unique niche to fulfill can lead to a unique, appreciated business such as LIV & Leaf or Lark & Owl.
She and the others involved with the bookstore described how they make a point of carrying books with LGBTQ+ content, as well as works from writers of varying religious backgrounds, and how at least one customer has taken the women aside and emotionally thanked them for making them feel seen and valued through the chance to connect with this literature. Even if it begins with just volunteer work or an internship, Jane insists “it will come back to you, or enrich you … even if you can’t see it coming yet.”
Supplementing the interactive panel, SU Sustainability Coordinator Veronica Johnson gave a wealth of verified statistics supporting the positive effects of buying local and supporting women-owned businesses. For example, every $100 spent at an independent local business sees $68 of it recirculate into the local economy, as opposed to $43 that recirculates from spending at a national chain. Much like the three businesses represented at the panel, many small businesses are one-of-a-kind, or otherwise offer products or services unique to the needs of the community. Continued support of such businesses ensures that such specific local needs continue to be met.
Coincidentally, the day after the Curious Conversations panel took place, our academic mall hosted a small farmer’s market that fellow writer Elena Welsh covered. Looking back, the panel’s sentiments of supporting and giving back to the community through smaller local businesses resonated during this event as well. Stopping by and buying from this smaller, more casual event can easily be seen as a way to support the community and its own agriculture and bakeries. Ideally, supporting events such as these will encourage more like it in the future, and help the nice folks offering up their confections to keep making an even wider array of them for the community.
As a takeaway, never underestimate what giving support to a local business, through work, time, or patronage, can do. Every community has certain niches to be filled, and its own members are usually the ones who best fill them.