The Slow Fade — A Cautionary Tale
There’s a price to running a community-centric business.
The hidden problem with any “community” centric small business is that ultimately, you’re still viewed as a business despite your effort to build the intangibles. No matter how much you think you’re more than that to the public, you’re really just another business selling a product or service to 95% of people that walk through your door.
That can be a hard pill to swallow.
The shop I used to partner at down in south Florida was an amazing success story. It was a vibrant space filled with people of all backgrounds, races and creeds. We had a full calendar of community engagement, music and activities happening at the shop. I had an open-door policy of sorts: come to me with an idea, know how to execute, and my space was yours. I loved being able to facilitate people’s visions or help fundraise for impactful local charities. That side of the business is what fulfilled me. It was my ‘why.’
Year after year our sales grew. Our product was great, but I thought the care I put into cultivating deep roots of community was the secret sauce to our success. But then year five hit, and something tangibly shifted. I remember it clearly — Many of the regulars stopped coming in as frequently. Events weren’t attended nearly as well. There were now more strange faces than there were familiar ones. Nothing had changed except the fact that our shop wasn’t “new” anymore. Many of the locals had moved their hang-out spot to new places that opened.
The “cool” had shifted.
I knew that I couldn’t hold onto people forever, but I firmly believed that if we carried the community weight that so many said we did, we would remain the spot to gather because that, the ‘why,’ was the gravitational draw. People would be loyal to that. I had fooled myself into believing that we weren’t just another business that would have its season but then slowly fade into a shadow of what it was before.
But we were.
It’s been a year and a half since I left that business. I left at the beginning of COVID, so even the exit was weird. I went one day from full connection to the community to gone, in a new state, within weeks. There was no closure or…