“No one can duplicate what I do,” says Hannah Withers, owner of Little Bread Company on Block Avenue in Fayetteville. In the kitchen cooler, you’ll find everything needed to bake from scratch. Each pastry or baked good at the Little Bread Company is made on-site and by hand, right down to the cream filling. “You can taste the difference. That’s how we choose to advance. Our business is to be involved,” says Withers.
Withers works in sync with local farmers, and using their seasonal fruits and vegetables for inspiration, Little Bread creates food that is linked not only with the community but also with the land itself.
“What’s fun about our kitchen is that we have a lot of things we have to figure out how to use. If we get pounds of fresh figs that have a tiny shelf life, it’s fun to spend a week making things. It keeps things interesting, and it keeps us on our toes.”
On Dickson Street, an atrium filled with finches is only one of Nightbird Books’ many unique characteristics. “Some kids have named some of the birds,” says bookstore owner Lisa Sharp, who opened Nightbird Books to offer an alternative to the local bar scene. The bookstore holds many events — most are free — throughout each week, inviting anyone with a love for words to participate.
Today, large retailers are tracking customers through a variety of techniques, such as assigning shoppers with guest ID numbers linked to email addresses, credit cards and demographics. At both Nightbird Books and Little Bread Company, knowing clients by name and building relationships is not only a way to receive feedback about the business, but is a way to connect with other members of the community.
Withers says that through the bakery she has become a part of other people’s lives. “People have met, fallen in love and proposed here,” she says. “There is a woman who ate a grilled cheese almost every day during her pregnancy and now she and her child come in together.”
Customers who shop locally receive more than a quality experience. Research shows that for every $100 spent in a local store, $45 returns to the local economy. When that same $100 is spent at a corporate chain, an average of $13 returns to the local economy.
When Northwest Arkansas consumers purchase from major e-commerce sites like Amazon, none of the money stays within the local economy. Internet shopping also eliminates the element of human connection from browsing and selecting items.
For both Sharp and Withers, personal relationships are cornerstones in their businesses. Catering to the unique needs of a community, while being a part of that community allows independent businesses to use insight to make both personal investments and receive personal reward.
“Local independent businesses, created on a personal level, are creating a service for a community that they think belongs here,” says Withers.
Withers explains that deep-rooted, personal connections between customers and small business owners are not only part of a business model, but part of building and enriching a local community.
“That’s why I live here,” she says. “In service and relationship those types of businesses are the backbone of the community.”
Unlike small businesses, local corporations standardize for mass production, and though this gives small businesses a chance to market a customized approach to goods and services — they can rarely compete with the prices of larger corporations.
“I can’t compete with Atlanta Bread Company. (My product) doesn’t come out of a machine,” says Withers.
“When people think about cost they have to think about more than the monetary cost,” explains Sharp. “When you make a purchase, it’s not just about dollars. If you shop locally, you’re investing in your economy and nurturing your community.”