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In the age of big box stores and multi-national conglomerates, it’s easy to get nostalgic for the bygone days spent shopping at the neighborhood market, buying shoes from the local cobbler, or stopping at the mom and pop diner down the street for a burger and a slice of pie.
Those were the days, right?
As it turns out, those good old days are still happening today!
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, businesses with fewer than 500 employees and generating less than $7 million in revenue still account for 99.7% of all U.S. businesses, offering 49.2% of U.S. jobs. That’s an overwhelming portion of the economy.
Main street might not look exactly like it used to.
For one thing, social media and the proliferation of online shopping have sent a lot of small businesses online for the majority of their revenue.
And even those businesses that do maintain a storefront have taken a more millennial approach to their offerings.
But even with a different look and feel, small businesses in America are still thriving through the same attention to detail, community focus, and top notch customer service that we’ve always known and loved.
If you want proof, check out these 27 unique businesses around the country redefining what it means to be small.
In spite of the massive size of multi-billion dollar cosmetics and beauty market, more and more homegrown businesses are finding their place to provide great products to their customers.
Through marketing in blogs, social media, and youtube tutorials, as well as easy online transactions with services like Etsy and PayPal, these small beauty companies are paving their own path while hanging onto what makes them unique.
After watching a few friends and family members struggle to find soaps that didn’t cause allergic reactions, Raleigh, NC native Maranda Kiser took to the kitchen of her one bedroom apartment with a singular mission in mind: to create a small batch vegan soap that would be delicate enough for sensitive skin.
After much trial and error, Kiser landed on her own perfect ratio of oil, water, and sodium-hydroxide, and eventually Nekkid Soap was born.
Yet another business focused on keeping things vegan and cruelty-free, Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Pumpkin and Poppy Cosmetics maintains a similar commitment to hand-made, small-batch products. Owner Kristy Cutsforth formulates each product herself and tests only on herself, even while offering high quality pigments in consistently on trend colors.
Clearly, Cutsforth’s products are living proof that high quality and high fashion can still be environmentally conscious and cruelty-free.
A company founded on passion, vibrance, and embracing the nerdy things in life, Shiro Cosmetics is based out of Portland, OR.
In 2010, Caitlin Johnstone found herself with an excessive amount of free time, after breaking her arm while snowboarding. The company has since created collections of makeup and geekery inspired by its employees’ love of all things nerdy—think Hobbit and Full Metal Collections, Miyazaki, and 90s boy bands.
Shiro takes great pride in personalized customer service, even offering free samples and candies in every order.
Located in an eclectic cultural community in Detroit, MI, Textures by Nefertiti offers patrons a holistic approach to embracing one’s natural hair.
The salon caters to people who wear or are transitioning to natural hair fashions; by offering interlocks, braids, treatments, grooming, and styling.
With her training in reiki, yoga, energy balance, and meditation, owner Nefertiti creates an experience that begins in her salon and positively affects guests’ whole lives, and not just their hair.
Fine literature, fine art, creative crafts, and more are classic businesses that benefit from staying small.
These creative small businesses are so positively charming, we don’t know why we’d ever shop anywhere else!
A longtime staple for Baltimore book lovers, coloring enthusiasts, and comic aficionados, Atomic Books embraces its local market and is a well-established small business.
The store was founded in 1992 by Scott Huffines and is now run by Ben Ray and Rachel Whang. The store exhibits many local masters’ works and hosts an assortment of events, readings, stand up, book club, and music club.
If you’re a John Waters fan (the man behind the movie Hairspray), the owners at Atomic can even help get your notes and gifts delivered straight to him—they’ve managed his fan mail for years!
With a commitment to keeping woodworking not only alive, but also fresh, Justin Nelson works tirelessly from his Oregon home to handcraft one-of-a kind artwork pieces that deliver both utility and aesthetic.
A former marine and firefighter, Nelson has broken away from strict military culture to embrace the diversity, passion, and fulfillment in operating a small business. Justin consistently builds loyalty and engagement with his customers through prizes and giveaways on social media, as well as through the level of attention and care given to each and every piece.
Based in Houston, TX, this one-of-a-kind mystery bookstore is one of the oldest and largest specialty stores in the country. Featuring every variety of new and used books, first edition collectibles, and even magazines in the mystery genre, Murder By the Book has become a local favorite for readers who enjoy a good thrill.
The store’s owners have kept their small business charm alive by regularly hosting luncheons with mystery authors and themed book discussion groups, as well as offering frequent shopper and event attendance reward programs.
Could painting your walls really change your life?
If you ask Ashlee Springer, it just might.
Southbound Painting’s founder and head painter knows that you can do more with a can of paint than just cover a wall. Her unique, eclectic designs breathe life into her customers’ New York City homes. With a focus on quality and personal connections, Springer starts every client relationship with an in-person consultation and clear, up-front pricing guide.
And throughout the painting process to end result, she promises no surprises, proactive communication, and a final product that’s truly one of a kind.
Southbound Painting is able to deliver a unique, catered service that is truly one-of-a kind for each client.
Located in an old Victorian house in Southern Pines, NC, Valhalla Tattoo focuses on clean, bold, and colorful artistry.
The shop is run by veterans Craig Morrison, Gabe Drummond, and Matt Nelson, who also give back to their veteran community. Every year, Valhalla gives the proceeds from 31 tattoos at their own fundraiser benefitting the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. The number 31 represents the 31 US soldiers lost in 2011 when a Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, as three of those killed were from the Southern Pines area.
Each tattooer has their own distinct style encompassing traditional, geometric, mehndi, and realistic designs.
Social media, pop-up events, and word of mouth connections make the fashion industry a great place to be a small business owner.
Even as much larger companies seek to dominate the market, we’ll always hold a special place in our hearts for small, community focused businesses like these.
Out in Marfa, TX, an isolated town in the West Texas plains, Colt Miller and Logan Caldbeck daily work with their hands to create all-American leather boots.
Each pair of boots takes about two weeks to make, and multiple pairs are made at the same time. The couple spends so much time, along with a few other shoemakers, completing orders that they barely have enough time to release new designs, and most orders must be pre-ordered.
From the painstaking process of making each pair of boots to the personalized bags in which each order to delivered, it’s easy to see the handcrafted genuine this touches that make this business the very definition of small town Texas charm.
Founded by high school sweethearts Susan Gregg Koger and Eric Koger in 2002, Modcloth is an online vintage-style fashion retailer based out of San Francisco, CA that also operates a traveling Pop Up store.
They have garnered loyalty and trust by many customers through their online access to stylists for advice through chat, phone, and email. ModCloth out in the fashion community by offering a large range of size availability and enforcing a strict “no shape changing” photoshop policy to encourage body positivity.
And although this company has seen continued growth over recent years with little end in sight, ModCloth’s commitment to personalized customer experience and community values makes it every bit as main street charming as any other business on our list.
What once began as a mother’s decision to hand-make safe and natural toys for her child evolved into Savage Seeds, a small business devoted to ethically hand-making clothing from non-toxic materials in the U.S.
All toys continue to be made by owner C.V. Savage and tested by her own children. Each order is designed with great attention to every detail, from the fibers used to the designs and packaging—which includes a packet of seeds and planting instructions.
Savage Seeds’ dedication to positively impacting others’ lives extends beyond delivering an exceptional product, but also to supporting other businesses that are ethically earning a living.
There’s nothing quite as classically main street as good food made by your hometown natives.
Here are a few of our favorite main street charming haunts in the food and beverage sector.
A passion for good food, good beer, and great movies that drove founders Tim and Karrie League to grow their simple one screen operation in an old parking garage to a multi-location business spread to six states across the country.
Each theatre offers signature programming and special events accompanied by delicious food, craft beers, and themed specialty cocktails at select locations. This winning combination has helped Alamo Drafthouse to maintain their small business charm as they grow, leading the small chain to be selected by Entertainment Weekly as the #1 movie theater in America.
With “happy cows (and goats and sheep!) = happy cheeses = happy ABC = happy YOU” in mind, this Astoria, NY-based specialty beer and cheese shop has seen great success.
Founded in 2009 by native Astorian Yang Gao, the shop has a rotating selection of craft beers on tap and a very fun menu of items from the cheese that they sell in-store.
The staff’s dedication to knowing customers by name and remembering their preferences, as well as sourcing snacks and bar items through fellow local businesses, has made Bier & Cheese a local favorite.
What once began as a hobby for roommates Marshall Thompson and Eric Feldman became a renowned brewery in Brooklyn, NY.
With the last brewery on “Brewers Row”, where Braven Brewing is currently located, closing down in 1976, the two have revived a great history of brewing in the Bushwick community. The brewery is loyal to its surrounding community—local artists were hired to design the company’s logo and local businesses supply their ingredients.
After earning the distinction of worst student in his Italian class at Dickinson College, founder Neal McTighe went on to earn a PhD in the language and build a business around authentically Italian premium tomato sauce.
The premium sauces offered at Nello’s in Raleigh, NC are made with quality ingredients and culinary traditions that would impress even the pickiest of pasta enthusiasts.
And even as Nello’s sauces become available from more and more retailers nationwide, this business continues to stick to its roots of only the finest homemade sauce.
Beside the twenty-four-hour big box gyms that seem to be popping up on every corner around the country, more and more small businesses are pushing back with a more holistic approach to health and fitness.
For customers who prefer a more personalized experience, small business like these are a welcome local sight.
From her home in the mountains of Boulder, Colorado, Brooke Cates developed her pregnancy fitness method, “The Bloom Method” to cater to preconception, prenatal, and postpartum women.
Cates’ goal is to have women develop the mental and physical abilities that encourage healthy pregnancies, smooth labor, healthier babies, and easier recovery from labor.
Although Cates’ methods have caught the attention of moms-to-be all over the country, her dedication to personalized, one-on-one coaching makes this fitness fanatic the definition of main street charm.
There’s a studio in Portland, OR that stands out in the health and fitness markets.
Fat Yoga offers the possibility to practice yoga for people who may not fit in with the stereotypical yoga crowd. The founder, Mack has been practicing yoga for over 14 years and realized that there was a huge need for classes that both motivated and respected larger bodies.
Each class is open to members of all shapes and sizes, and provides each attendee with a tailored practice for their level.
Located in the heart of sunny Jacksonville, Florida, Kona Skatepark is the oldest outdoor privately-owned skate park in the United States… And possibly the world.
Even as its fame in the skating community grows, this small business shows an ongoing commitment to its local community by hosting skate camps for all ages and ability levels, as well as ongoing classes for all ages.
In 2007, Zach Buckner founded Relay Foods in Charlottesville, VA, with a vision of shopping for our food in the information age: convenient, intuitive, and simple.
Starting small to establish the fundamentals, Relay Foods has developed an online grocery shopping experience from the ground up. Local farmers, startups, and larger distributors supply Relay, customers fill their cart online, and then pick it up the next day from one of Relay’s rotating pickup sites or have it delivered to their door.
Relay is currently in five cities and continues to grow while sticking to its local roots.
From the home office, to the kitchen, to what hangs on the walls—unique and creative small businesses around the country are giving department and discount stores a run for their money with unique and popular offerings.
Instagram and other social media sites help to spread the word about many of these small businesses, helping them to gain traction even outside their immediate communities.
Simple and beautiful products to help busy women stay organized—that’s the motivation behind every product that designer and mompreneur Emily Ley creates for her self-titled brand.
Her cornerstone product is the Simplified Planner, a no-frills paper planner designed with moms in mind. While Ley’s brand continues to grow—including multiple partnerships, a new men’s line, and even a forthcoming memoir—her sweet and authentic online persona leaves every customer feeling as though they’re still doing business with a long lost best friend.
Operating within a niche market, Honey Boards deserves a standing ovation for their resourcefulness.
This company salvages wood from cypress knees and stumps left behind after commercial operations harvesting trees for lumber and then turns them into gorgeous cutting boards.
Since no two trees are the same, every cutting board is unique in its shape, color, and size. Sarah Tucker and Kyle Hubbs started the company in New Orleans, LA in 2014 and have continued to offer one-of-a kind boards that are treated with honey sourced from local beekeepers.
Opened in 2009 by artisan friends Diane Jackson and Amanda Vernon, Santa Monica, California’s Mindful Nest is quite literally a modern main street standard.
The small shop features locally made art, jewelry, gifts, and accessories—often including pieces made by the owners themselves. And by consistently investing in their local community—particularly through Santa Monica’s weekly Farmer’s Market events, Jackson and Vernon continue to secure their place as a long-term Santa Monica staple.
Once upon a time, words like sustainability and environmental footprint weren’t what you’d typically associate with charming small businesses.
But these days, what could be better for the local community than a business focused on keeping us healthy for the long haul?
That’s why these environmentally friendly businesses get high praise on our list.
What exactly can be charming about dirt?
With this composting company, just about everything!
Detroit Dirt partners with local companies to recycle waste into fertile soil for community gardens, encouraging urban farming as a way to revitalize this historic city. Though still a for-profit business, this team aims to do a lot more than simply selling dirt. In their own words, they also aim to “lower transportation costs, reduce the city’s environmental footprint, create business, develop neighborhoods, install a long-lost pride for the city of Detroit.”
Based in Bethel, Alaska, Meyers Farm is a sustainable pesticide-, herbicide-, and chemical fertilizer-free farm.
Their fertilizers are made out of compost made from the Alaskan Bush and are infused with salmon. And not only are husband and wife team Tim and Lisa Meyers committed to chemical free sustainability, they have also overcome the many challenges of growing produce in their permanently frozen Alaskan hometown in order to provide their community with local, fresh, and affordable produce.
There’s something about a wedding that makes us especially nostalgic for all things small and local.
And because small businesses are often better able to cater to local interests and tastes that may not translate to a national audience, events and hospitality are one industry where small businesses are most likely to thrive.
Here are just a couple of our favorite vendors who have a special eye on creating a comfortable atmosphere.
Entering from the historic property’s vast front porch, each of the 5 rooms within this 30-year-old Bed and Breakfast in the Uptown/Garden District of New Orleans has its own private entrance.
Owners Jill and Charles Abbyad take pride in helping each guest design itineraries to experience New Orleans at their own perfect speed.
Even as chain hotels and AirBnB properties threaten to overtake the New Orleans hospitality scene, the Abbyad family’s dedication to creating personalized customer experiences has guaranteed the ongoing success of this unique and charming New Orleans establishment.
While not many would think of a magazine as a main street small business, the gals at Southern Weddings have proven an ongoing dedication to keeping things down-home.
From their headquarters at editor-in-chief Lara Casey’s Chapel Hill, NC home, Southern Weddings publishes both a once annual hard copy and an ongoing online magazine that prioritizes family and rejects bridezilla culture, focusing instead on the trends, venues, and companies that embody traditional southern values.
Chief among this team’s top tips for southern brides?
“We believe in picking a wedding date based on the SEC football schedule!”
Though these 27 businesses represent different industries, values, and points of view, each and every one maintains its own unique personality and commitment to the local communities it serves—the common traits that continue to define main street charm.