When small is big

Shubie’s 70th anniversary celebration was more than an opportunity to sample chocolates and caramels during the Saturday 20 percent discount sale and more than a chance to help local public schools by attending Friday night’s celebration.

A beloved Marblehead market, Shubie’s is the perfect example of a small business that has a big impact on a community. It has enjoyed 70 years of support from town residents and other loyal customers because it is a place where people feel comfortable shopping and because the customer always comes first at Shubie’s.

There are thousands of Shubie’s across America sharing the common denominator of businesses that remain loyal to their communities and where customers, owners and employees  — as the weekend’s worth of celebration underscored — are on a first-name basis.

Small businesses traditionally get their due on a shopping day that helps mark the start of the holiday shopping season. But Shubie’s enduring presence in Marblehead is proof that every day can be small business day when a business stays true to its customers’ wants and needs and customers return that attention with loyalty.

Small businesses don’t operate in a vacuum. Taken together, their presence helps communities thrive and, indeed, survive. When businesses leave towns, especially little businesses owned by long-time, hometown residents, communities start to die.

By contrast, when businesses thrive and sustain customer loyalty in towns like Marblehead, the community is that much better off because people spend their dollars locally and extend their loyalty to other local businesses.

The days of shoppers walking from one business to another to buy bread, meat and other staples has largely gone the way of the trolley car and the milkman. But Shubie’s and other small businesses like it prove that consumers will calculate and compare the benefits of convenience against the attraction of having a reliable and close-by place to shop.

Marblehead features plenty of other businesses with local owners and loyal local followings and more are springing up: Long-time Haley’s Wines and Market Cafe employee Ericka Ayube is poised to carry on the tradition of downtown Marblehead businesses by opening the Mugford Eatery.

American commerce is fast evolving into a store-less shopping culture connecting finger-tapping keyboards to goods and services and shipping networks. This near-virtual retail world may define the economic future but it’s going to take a fast and very reliable delivery service to out-compete the Shubie’s of the world.

After all, where are people going to gossip and talk about grandkids and gardening if they don’t have somewhere to shop?

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