Letter From the Editor

Small Home Gazette, Fall 2009

Letter From the Editor: living in a neighborhood

The other night as my wife Gail and I were paying for groceries, a curious and welcome thing happened. Our check required a manager’s approval, and when the manager came over, he looked at us and whispered to his employee, “Forget about it—I know these people.” He then greeted us warmly and thanked us for shopping in the store.

Then there’s the waitress at a local restaurant who can complete our order before we can finish giving it because she recognizes us. Well, maybe it’s also because we’re just terribly dull and order the same thing over and over, but I prefer to think of these experiences as evidence that we’re living in a small town called St. Paul.

Gail and I both grew up in small Minnesota towns. When I try to explain these “small town” experiences to friends who still live where I come from, I hear disbelief in their questions and comments. They are not convinced that any part of the Twin Cities can feel like a friendly small town.

This summer our immediate St. Paul neighborhood was nervous when a Trader Joe’s opened a block and a half away. How would it affect nearby businesses that provide similar products? What would it do to traffic on our streets? How about parking? There has certainly been a negative impact for some—especially those who live next door to the store and contend with employees taking up available street parking. Traffic has increased and preexisting stores have lost some business. But it hasn’t been as bad as the dire predictions. And our neighborhood still feels small.

Maybe the nearness of Three Buck Chuck wine has me thinking like an idealist, but I think this feeling of living in a small town has more to do with our state of mind than the size of our city’s population. How we treat each other goes a long way toward creating a small town within the big city.

Tim Counts, this newsletter’s editor, has previously used this space to ruminate about the value of meeting your neighbors and forming a community within the larger city. I think that advice also applies to local businesses. Take the time to be neighborly to the people serving you in local stores. You might be shopping at a national chain, but it’s still a local store with local employees. Managers and employees who know their customers as people rather than merely sources of revenue will provide better service and products.

If we can all live in this small town state of mind, we can make real progress in keeping the Twin Cities a collection of small towns.