Saturday, July 14, 2012

Reflections on Support Hibbing Independents

Happy Saturday, all.  While those of you in Hib-town may be winding down from the Red Ore Run , gearing up for the Jubilee Parade, or just trying to stay cool at a nearby lake; here I am at my apartment in Iowa taking a chance to reflect on last week’s Support Hibbing Independents Initiative. 

I don’t know about the rest of you, but last Friday and Saturday were definitely an eye-opening experience for me.  Some of my coolest discoveries were as follows:

  • The Odd Shop has a great line of greeting cards which use vintage photos as well as an excellent selection of Hibbing postcards. 
  • Surprise: Bikes on Howard has popcorn and slushies.  Not sure if this was a special occurrence or everyday thing, but I definitely noted it while pricing bike seats.
  • Amateur artists like myself can get great deals on art supplies at SoHo where I picked up a couple of canvases, brushes, and a beginners set of oil paints for less than $15. 

Honestly, I had a number of ah-ha moments experiencing downtown Hibbing last week.  Some delightful, others sobering; but one of my favorites was like visiting an old friend and I’d like to share it with you. 

Howard Street Booksellers

After a quick trip to the Hibbing Historical Society on Saturday morning, I ran over to Howard Street Booksellers.  I feel like I have history with this place and the owners, Joe and Mary.  They’re good people, who know their customers and really know their stuff.  Last year when I was looking to buy some books for my darling little goddaughter they were able to explain transitions in the publishing of my favorite Golden Books and help me select titles with better quality bindings, which I never would have noticed on my own. 

So last Saturday when I walked in the shop, Joe greeted me with a smile.  We exchanged pleasantries a bit and I explained I was looking for a couple of good reads to take out to the lake with me that afternoon.  He gave me my space to browse, but I knew he was ready and willing to offer suggestions or answer any questions.  While I was browsing for “the perfect book” I happened to overhear snippets of Joe’s conversations with other customers. 

Thanks Joe, for being such a good sport and letting me capture  a pic for the blog!
“Well, I know that you like kayaking. . .”

“How’s your mother?”

“Well, it’s similar to the other series you were reading. . .”

Dylan-themed display near the entrance.  
It’s been said in a number of places in a variety of ways, but one of the best things about local shops like this is the personal service.  Of course, I buy great books there like my recent Michael J. Fox memoir-find, but I realize that I go to Howard Street for more than books.  I like that when I walk through the doors they know who I am.  They ask about my family and how I like my job.  They know what I am interested in and it’s not the result of some sort of computer profile based on my web browsing habits.  While I acknowledge the fiscal reality of retail business, when I go into this shop I experience a genuine sense of community caring and I think others do too. 

These are the kind of places I want in my hometown.  Shops that make you smile when you walk by, even during off hours.  Places you can go to find what you need both in terms of goods and services, but also in the sense of community. These are spaces that celebrate the unique in a world that is often a little too cookie cutter.   

So, in closing, was the Support Hibbing Independents effort a success?  Well, I don’t know.  There was not a literal mob of people at Howard Street Booksellers, but who’s to say that business was not “up” at many of our local establishments?  I do know that my sister’s shop experienced an uptick and I hope others did as well.  I think it’s a step in the right direction, but there’s a lot more that can be done. 

In the end, it’s about getting people’s attention, changing attitudes, and changing behavior.  That’s tough work.  That’s long term work.  Although “Support Hibbing Independents” may be over, I think this movement is really just beginning.  Let’s continue to talk about and work for supporting a growing small business community in Hibbing.  Together, we can make a positive impact!

Please share your experience of Support Hibbing Independents below, along with any questions or ideas you have about moving this initiative forward in the comments below.


  1. Thank You Jennifer for all your hard work. I can hardly wait till I come up in August and take a look around. I think there should be another stab at this. Maybe in the fall when more people are in town and we might be able to get a few more people involved. posters, newspaper articles, store specials and a lot more email participation. So keep those independent adds on your hard drive. p.s. guys, nobody pays $11.oo for a plain old hamburger in the cities. It is time for the 2 For $20.00 for dinner and desert craze that is going on down here, and it sure isn't corn dogs. Thanks again.

  2. It's great that you came for the event, Jennifer. Instead of making the plans & then just waiting to hear what happened. You mentioned positive experiences in your blog post, and that is what people want to hear. My husband & I are retired, so we don't shop the way we did raising a family. Since we both grew up here, we take pride in our small town and want it to flourish. But I think that hinges on businesses providing what people need.

    When my husband works on a project, he often needs a part. He used to run quick to a hardware store. Now it's pathetic. Little repairs wait so long that it's easier to forget about it than drive yourself nuts with being frustrated.

    My husband loves the shooting sports, and there's nothing here for him. He doesn's like to order online, but many times that's his only option.

    I don't want to dress like a teen, with little skimpy tops and low-waited pants. But I don't want to wear elasticwaisted baggy knits either.

    I want to decorate my rooms with the designs and colors that feel beautiful, not poorly sewn linens that ravel in the first wash.

    So, many times I don't shop. Period. Walking through huge stores, crowded with carts that people have trouble steering, maneuvering my way with one hand & helping an older friend with the other, having to reach high & bend low & try on shoes balancing on one foot isn't worth the hassle.

    We have such bad weather in winter that shopping "indoors" is very appealing. But our local malls don't offer much. Could one or more of the downtown buildings be divided into shops for small businesses where they could have reasonable rent and a chance for more sales due to more foot traffic passing through?

    Someone who works with the malls told me that the reason the malls can't get more businesses to locate there is because we have an aging population, thus not enough shoppers anymore to make it profitable for them. I don't think the aging population is going to change in the foreseeable future. And I don't think people want to spend money on gas to drive great distances to shop. I want to suggest that we try to find a way to know what the aging population would buy from small businesses. But I've heard that is not a good idea, because by the time you find out, it's too late, and the needs change. However, maybe that is the case with younger people starting out and needing work clothes and family purchases, clothing, furniture and other necessities and interests. I certainly don't think all senior citizens buy the same things or the same quality of items. I think there is a wide range of products that could be offered because people are living longer and staying active outside their home. They like to entertain. They like to make short bus trips to the casinos and long bus trips to interesting places. They like to dance, play games, attend events. They like to dress up and they like to go casual. Many have way more discretionary money to spend than they ever did raising a family. We should have businesses near or in the Androy and other big apartment complexes.

    These aren't new ideas and probably not very practical or profitable, but maybe it will get someone to say, "Aha! how about...?"

    Thanks for caring, Jennifer.

  3. There has to be shops downtown, not just taverns & tattoo parlors & eating places in order to encourage people to shop downtown.

    Maybe someone could talk to Rich Lees to see if the rent in all the buildings he owns is affordable & conducive to small business ventures. It takes time for small businesses to make it. Many have started up but don't seem to prosper.

  4. Many ideas and tax incentives have been discussed in order to fill the empty store fronts. Duluth had an essay contest with three years free rent. The reason Howard Street looks the way is does is a direct result of Rich Lees. You can't start up a business and have your rent raised three times in one year.

  5. Thank you for all of the comments, everyone. . .so many good issues to talk about, it's hard to address them all here, but I will give it the ol' college try.

    * Re: taking another stab at this: Yes! I think it is definitely worthy of another go-round. Having a bit more time to build things up is a good thing! What do you all think about gathering some momentum around Small Business Saturday? It's a national movement encouraging people to "shop small" on the Saturday following Thanksgiving as opposed to Black Friday, which is dominated by the national chains.

    *Special thanks to Anonymous #2 for your thoughtful comments. I agree a lot with what you're saying. In many ways our demographics work against us in terms of attracting national chains. Some of the chains that people express interest in having in town will not locate here due to a number of population and location factors. I think this is really why we need to encourage/support individual entrepreneurs who really care about and are invested in our town! I also think you make a great point about the senior population in town, perhaps I can address that in a future blog post!

    * Finally, the elephant in the room: yes, Rich Lees owns A LOT of downtown Hibbing. . .well, really Hibbing commercial real estate in general. I think he's done some great things, such as rehabbing certain buildings in town that were really getting to be eye sores. . .however, any kind of real estate monopoly like this isn't good. :( I know that rent is a very real issue for business owners in this situation. My question is, who will step up to even the playing field? Who will take the risk to be a viable alternative in the commercial property business?