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A Love Letter to Local Businesses

Cacao Sweets and Treats in Grayslake, Illinois


Scrolling through my Instagram feed on Thursday afternoon, I came across a post by the owners of Prairie Espresso back home. The post was thanking Candice from Cacao Sweets and Treats for coming by earlier that day to drop off a new batch of pastries for the little alleyway cafe to sell. It made me smile because I can remember doing the same thing for the Instagram of the car dealership where I work in the summers the day that Candice came by with a box of 1000 housemade cookies for us to distribute at our vintage car show in July. We all love Candice and her bakery and the dedication she puts into everything she does.

Earlier this week my aunt Alli sent me a link to an article in the Chicago Tribune, entitled “Resistance: What It Took to Keep a Local Bookstore Afloat.”

The “local bookstore” in the article was The Book Bin in Northbrook where my aunt has been working for as long as I can remember (and far, far longer than even that). For my whole life, The Book Bin has been one of my favorite places in the world. When I was little, I never wanted to leave the kids’ section in the corner or the shop, with its pint-sized armchairs and the electric fairytale train that used to chug along on top of all the bookshelves.

                                                                                                                      The Book Bin in Northbrook, Illinois

Two Septembers ago, my childhood dream came true—my mom’s family all pitched in to buy the bookstore, and ownership passed down to my aunt. It hasn’t been easy at all for her to own the bookstore, with big chains and eBooks and online shopping ever on the rise (and I’m hopefully not the only one who thinks of the movie You’ve Got Mail and the idea of small bookstores and big bookstores competing?). So, with the article Alli sent me, I assumed the story would be about her and what it’s like to take over the business.

And it so totally wasn’t.

The article was written by a journalist whose mother had originally opened The Book Bin, and it centered around the early years of the little store’s life. It talked about our beloved shop’s competition with Crown Books, the big discount bookstore a few towns over, and how it was able to be overcome through establishing personal relationships with its customers and truly caring about getting books into the hands of readers, and even a few curious non-readers.

My aunt’s role in the bookstore’s life wasn’t mentioned, and I thought that was kind of amazing. This place has meant so much to me personally, and it can also mean just as much to another person, but in a 100% different way. It is something that I absolutely love about really small businesses — they really truly mean so much to the people who know and love them. The owners personally invest all of their time and pour their entire souls into what they do, usually without even the promise of any kind of profit. They’re the absolute culmination of what it means to throw yourself into a labor of love.                                                                                                                 Helmut’s Strudel in Rockport, Massachusetts

Local business is about so much more than having something unique—it’s about building community and connections within its ever-loved walls. I have never been to the Hansa Coffee in Lake Bluff without running into a friendly face, between kids from high school, friends from church, former coworkers, or even just now-familiar baristas and other regulars that I’ve come to know. I can stay there for hours, just sitting at the couch or at one of the little wooden tables, and I never get bored. The little coffeeshop is perfect too for just stopping in for a latte and then running back out, but really, that’s not what it’s designed for. It’s the perfect place to start friendships and to strengthen them, to focus on work or to let yourself drift into whatever daydreams or distractions come to present themselves. It’s the kind of place that makes a hometown feel like home to you.

I’m lucky. Not only do I have so many amazing local shops at home to call my own, but I’m falling in love with the ones here at Kenyon, too. I mean, of course we all love Wiggin Street Coffee here on campus and The Happy Bean in Mount Vernon. And just last week, I was absolutely enchanted for the first time by all of the family-made artwork at The Coleman Gallery in town, connected to the most charming upstairs-apartment-turned-bed-and-breakfast that I have ever seen in my entire life. On Monday I wandered into The Weather Vane across the street from the Health Center, and the woman who runs the shop spent half an hour focused entirely on helping me find clothes that suited my personal tastes best and also had the best deals, all the while asking me about my family and what I was studying at Kenyon and my plans for the rest of the afternoon. And, the OLDEST STORE IN OHIO is right here in Knox County!!! It’s right downtown in Mount Vernon and it smells amazing in there!!! I went in there by accident once because it was windy outside and I needed to stop and make a call!                                                                                                               Hansa Coffee Roasters in Libertyville, Illinois

I was asked earlier today about what kinds of things I missed about home while I was away from it, and immediately one of the first things I said was Hansa. But, what I meant was absolutely for certain that I was missing the community I found through countless card games, trying to mix syrups together to create our own latte flavors, lunch breaks in the middle of hard work days, getting excited over the music the baristas played, and getting to stay and hang out with the people who worked there after they had sent everyone else home and were closing up shop. What I missed was being able to have somewhere where I totally felt like I belonged to a group of people who all felt just as connected to a place that is so dedicated to what it does, and serving the town as a larger community. And, that’s something I don’t think I could ever find quite as deeply or as personally in any big chain.

Image Credit: Annmarie Morrison


Annmarie's a sophomore art history major at Kenyon College, and she really really really loves ginger ale and collaborative Spotify playlists, and she's working on being a better listener. For Her Campus, she both writes and is the photographer for the Kenyon chapter, as well as running the Instagram account for the chapter.
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