Small Businesses Aren't So Small After All
Updated: Nov 17, 2022
Todd and Cathy Smith's new magazine, ExploreChattanooga, connects tourists
to local businesses.
Every business starts out as a small business. Walmart started in a component of a small building in Rogers, Arkansas (Sivakumar). Starbucks started by selling coffee at Pikes Place, a farmers market in Seattle, Washington (Bondarenko). These businesses relied on the support of their local community to grow to what they are now.
Todd Smith is the publisher of the ExploreChattanooga, a magazine dedicated to pointing tourists towards Chattanooga’s variety of local restaurants and shops. Smith dedicates his time to finding businesses to advertise in his magazine, designing each page, and dropping off orders to over a hundred different hotels in Chattanooga. He describes his process as being like a hamster on a wheel, a complete circle that he completes every three months when he publishes a new magazine plus the additional holiday guide.
Smith has a history in tourism. He worked at Rock City when he was younger and realized how important tourists are to the community. He explains that tourists benefit the locals not only from buying from their shops but because they help pay for taxes. “Tourists save taxpayers $600 to $1,000 a year in taxes that we don't have to spend,” Smith says. “They pay sales tax and they pay the hotel tax, which helps pay for the schools, promoting more tourism, festivals, and all different kinds of things to help bring more people into town.” Smith realizes the importance that small businesses have on the economy, and he’s dedicated to doing his part to keep the cycle going. You can tell Smith is a businessman with his gruff-sounding voice and witty comments about each topic. You see his cleverness on the title page of his magazine with subtitles like “Up on the Roof! Taking Dining to New Heights.”
With tourism rising to just under 3% of what it used to be, according to Smith, instead of returning to the previous magazine, he decided to create an entirely new one with the help of his wife, Cathy.
Many small businesses experienced significant changes from the Covid-19 pandemic. Unlike most, Smith experienced a good change that led to his success. The title ExploreChattanooga wasn't always the one you saw when you picked up the magazine from one of the many Chattanooga hotel lobbies. The journey to create the signature magazine started with a different name. Smith once helped to publish a franchise magazine called TravelHost. When the pandemic hit and tourism started to vanish, the magazine did as well. With tourism rising to just under 3% of what it used to be, according to Smith, instead of returning to the previous magazine, he decided to create an entirely new one with the help of his wife, Cathy. He recalled how he was bothered by the restrictions the franchise magazine put on him. This newly created publication gave him the freedom he didn’t have before.
During the pandemic, online shopping becoming increasingly popular. More than 80% of people prefer to shop online for its easy pay and quick shipping features. As a result of this, many local shops have been in jeopardy of shutting down for good and forced to shift to online sales only. At the end of 2020, the first year of Covid-19, nearly 50% of local shops shut down in parts of the U.S. (Belda).
When asked how we could do our part to support our local shops, Smith laughed and said that that was a really simple answer. Shop local. He explains that most things you can find at Walmart, you can find at a family-owned business down the road. If we can't keep our unique local shops open it will break the whole cycle that was described earlier.
Of course, buying locally isn't always perfect. It comes with its downsides as all other options do. It takes more effort than going to one-stop fits all places like Walmart or Target. Plus unemployment rates are at risk of rising if we all shop local due to the decrease in people who would be needed to transport to big chains. However, the main factor which makes people defer from shopping local is the price tag. Local shops usually have to price their goods at a higher cost because rather than purchasing from cheap manufacturers, the local businesses purchase their bulk sales from more sustainable resources (Locklear). Smith strongly believes that even though the cost is higher, the benefits are much greater. With better tax rates and supporting your community, it's easy for him to see that shopping locally is always the right way to shop.
Belda, Annemarie. “Buying Local Statistics for 2021: Survey Finds 70% of Americans Shop Small.” Mint, 11 January 2021, https://mint.intuit.com/blog/money- etiquette/buying-local-statistics-survey/. Accessed 21 April 2022.
Bondarenko, Peter. “Starbucks | Description, History, & Facts | Britannica.”
Encyclopedia Britannica, 4 April 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Starbucks.
Accessed 21 April 2022.
Locklear, Jodie. “Disadvantages of Buying Local & Why You Should Do It Anyway –
Simple Minded.” Simple Minded, 11 September 2019,
https://www.simpleminded.life/disadvantages-of-buying-local/. Accessed 21 April
Sivakumar, Bharath. “The History Of Walmart.” Feedough, 7 September 2021,
https://www.feedough.com/the-history-of-walmart/. Accessed 21 April 2022.