Building A Community: Shopping

Recently, my partner and I spent an afternoon at an old mill in Lowell, Mass. that has been refurbished into a funky mall.

There’s an apothecary there full of herbs in bulk and handmade soaps. I got a fantastic pine tar soap there that’s been very helpful for my eczema. 

There’s a movie theatre there that plays arthouse films plus Saturday morning cartoons for kids and a ‘mystery’ movie on a weeknight where the movie isn’t announced until you’ve already bought the ticket and are ready to see it.

There’s an old-timey soda fountain with ice cream (dairy and non-dairy) with malts, frappes, and egg creams. They even sell sarsaparilla. There’s a great spacious coffeehouse. A New Agey crystal shop. A vinyl record shop. And various other niche/specialty places.

Now if you’re thinking that it sounds kinda hipster, I’d agree with you. But it’s hipster in the way that I like. With the focus upon independent/small shops, not on pretentiousness. 

What impressed me most is that there felt like a sense of community in this little shopping place.

Lowell, like many former industrial areas, has been hit hard financially. It’s known for being one of many former mill towns in Massachusetts where there is a heroin problem. 

But this place, for all of my limited interaction with it, brought me some joy. All over Boston and Cambridge, most shops are either national chains…or if they’re small and local, they’re catering to the rich. 

This got me thinking about what shopping could be like.

What if we could occupy the downtowns of our cities and towns and vitalize them with independent, small, local shops full of things people need or want?

What if our local governments stopped giving tax breaks to the Amazons and Walmarts and, instead, helped tailors and seamstresses open up shop downtown so people could have affordable locally made clothing instead of supporting slave labor in China?

What if every downtown had a local doctor or several..that were affordable (or free!)?

What could a community do to revitalize a downtown if money was no object? 


I would like to open a tea shop. 

~ by R.M. McGrath on 01/21/2020.

2 Responses to “Building A Community: Shopping”

  1. This has been an ongoing struggle in Franklin County, Massachusetts and especially the county seat of Greenfield for thirty years. They’ve really tried hard in Greenfield, Shelburne Falls, and in nearby towns to keep local businesses alive. Sadly, Greenfield just lost their independent department store, Wilson’s.

    Liked by 1 person

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