Craft Your Culture | An article about small business from our dear friends
As much as we’ve experienced, and have yet to write about, a recurring theme and element we’ve brushed, gently albeit, is local culture and business. National Parks Service territories and their surrounding settlements are rife with gift shops and overpriced food options. Therein is still the essence of the area – southwest parks adopt wild west themes and sell countless cowboy hats and idyllic leather holsters – but it has mutated into something stained by industry and the consistent influx of people ready and purposed to affirm it.
An important distinction can be made. Local culture can become local business, but local business is distinct. Local culture reeks of opportunity; it can morph into industry, into big business. We call that selling out, when a company progresses in a linear, stair-step fashion away from and, presumably, above the people and the culture compromising its base.
We know industry is made up of well-dressed individuals behind desks and glimpsed through board-room windows, but local business reminds us that we’re still individuals, pantsuit or not. Trajectories of business are based on choices made by people, and local business embodies the individual in a way that local culture cannot always showcase on its own, autonomously.
This distinction is relevant, exceptional even, because it offers agency to us as individuals. Authentic local business cultivates face-to-face connection with other members of a shared identity. It creates an avenue of contribution that industry cannot. Local business listens and responds uniquely, with personality. We, the community, dictate what to provide, rather than what to consume.
We, the two of us, are privileged enough to harbor familiarity with those faces responsible for perpetuating authenticity in their community. The guys at Brew Candle Company strive to follow the feedback loop of local involvement; they work to project the culture they see around them and the relationships they’ve created between each other. Basil’s and Booneshine work to keep their space open for people in their community to gather – we know this firsthand because we were able to lend ours towards that purpose for months (thank you, Patrick Sullivan!).
As much as we’ve experienced, being now three weeks removed from our own local culture in Boone, we have no less appreciation for the people who taught us how to be participants in our community, and no great love for the industries who lose sight of the individuals that make them.
The southwest is a cultural ecosystem that has been invaded by commodification. Like a weed, the culture of exchange spreads and envelopes the image of the West as compliment to textbook learning. All over the world we hear of the American frontier, where hardened people conquered indomitable landscapes and vehement wildlife to create a living. But, once industry and commodification have taken hold, these things only exist across checkout counters in ceramic reduction. They make choices, we make choices, those establishing business to capitalize on the ignorance and anonymity of tourists make choices.
Individual agency is a natural condition. Those that seek to overcome it or overshadow it by operating “en masse” condemn it to simplicity.
Local culture, and culture in general for the sentiment, is complex. It breathes and grows in cycles that reflect the people that comprise it. Authentic local business recognizes and seeks to embrace this reality. It endeavors to embolden its community and to empower its members, because through these members it subsequently grows. It has only as much agency as the community which identifies with it, and as much ability to adapt. Community doesn’t need to be photographed or staged, it needs to be participated in.
This is wherein lies the appeal of local culture and its business. You may participate as an individual, not only exist as a number.