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February 2022

Importance of Supporting Small Businesses

in Downtown Birmingham

As the inaugural article, I think it is fitting to promote supporting the small businesses in downtown Birmingham, and to make a strong case that Birmingham have a balanced mix between national chains and small businesses.

Downtown Birmingham is renowned for its shopping, dining, and entertainment offerings. The downtown boasts some well-known, upscale retailers and is an increasingly sought-after market for national brands. Just this past year, more than half a dozen national brands either signed leases or moved forward with their development plans. This speaks to Birmingham’s attractiveness as a walkable shopping destination.

The Birmingham Shopping District (BSD) can be credited with contributing to the success that is being enjoyed today. The BSD is a public agency that is part of the city government governed by a 12-person board, which includes the city manager, property owners, business owners, and residents. The BSD is responsible for economic development, marketing and advertising, special events, and downtown maintenance. Since its founding in 1992, the BSD has dedicated itself to promoting and maintaining the downtown.

The Birmingham Shopping District represents a broad constituency, ranging from restaurants, salons, and retailers to professional services, non-profits, and medical services. This includes national chains and small businesses. Because of this diverse base, it is important that the BSD be equitable in terms of its programs and policies. As national retailers continue to open in Birmingham, it is important now more than ever that the BSD also focus on the needs of small businesses.

As executive director, I have met and connected with dozens of small business owners who comprise the downtown economy. Many are hidden gems that have been steadily evolving over the years, producing not just personalized goods and services, but also producing an intangible sense of authenticity, genuineness, and a unique ‘cool factor’ that gives the community its identity and soul.

I was excited to learn that some independent store owners are not limited to retail, but also design and produce unique products themselves. Located at 152 N. Old Woodward, Viga is a local fashion designer and makes upscale apparel on site. Her clients even include notable television news reporters. Two doors down, at 172 N. Old Woodward, Urban Wick Candle Bar not only produces candles, but offers the experience of candle making as a group event. These two examples illustrate the innovation, personalized service, and unique sense of place that small businesses can bring to a downtown.

The interest from national chains in brick-and-mortar stores in the age of online retail is a remarkable achievement for the community. National chains possess a mass magnetism that boosts foot traffic and expands the boundaries of the regional trade area. However, it is the small, locally owned businesses that contribute to a unique sense of place in a way that no national chain can replicate. We need to appreciate the balance between the two in terms of business attraction, retention, and expansion.

The BSD has already begun several new initiatives around supporting small businesses. Recently, the BSD launched a business anniversary program which recognizes the contributions of these businesses. We are excited to take even more steps to support small businesses as we move into 2022.

Sean Kammer is the Executive Director of the Birmingham Shopping District.

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