Family-run businesses and building community

In the Before Times, we went to Burst of Butterflies more often than you might expect people to go to a pottery-painting place.

It was a family-run business in the city I worked in, and they opened a satellite location closer to home (and easier to park) than the original place.

We painted canvases. We painted pottery. We’ve made tree ornaments the past several years. I painted a ceramic Christmas cactus (like the trees with the plastic lights and a light bulb inside but a saguaro). Mugs. Spoon rest. Rocket Kid did a couple of weeks of summer camp with them.

Whenever we were there, Lucas was there. He was the family member running the satellite location. He was friendly and helpful, and over time we got to know each other a bit.

Also there was Kelsey, who we knew from the place Rocket Kid took swim lessons as a tot. 

I never stepped foot in there without seeing one of them, usually both.

The last time I was in there was in February 2020 with a couple of girlfriends.

Then the pandemic hit, and everything closed.

Already signed up, we did virtual summer camp that summer. (I was impressed with how they packaged the materials and got them to us and still made it all work.)

For our annual Christmas ornaments, we ordered paint-at-home packs.

The satellite location closed.

Over the weekend, we called and asked if they have space outdoors to work. Yes, they have a large back patio. Great! So we went.

As we walked from the car to the shop, we commented that we hoped they were both there.

Walking in, we saw Lucas at the counter, head down, writing.

We stood at the counter for a moment, and when he looked up, his face lit up and there were hugs all around. We talked for 10 or 15 or 20 minutes, and it was affectionate and lovely. Both sides were happy to see that the other was doing well. We expressed our happiness that their business made it through the worst of the pandemic.

Later, sitting at our table on the patio painting Christmas tree ornaments, Kelsey came in the gate and the reunion was just as warm and enthusiastic.

There was no welcome like this when we started grocery shopping in person again. No one at Target was happy to see us come in after all this time. The people at the counter at the gym are disinterested.

These small interactions impact us more than we know. 

Imagine if even half the time you went into a retail location, someone in the store knew who you were and you had some sort of relationship with them, even if it was somewhat superficial. Not that they follow you around the store or you’re required to have a long small talk session when you walk in, but they know you a bit, and you know them a bit, and you’re happy to see each other, even if it’s just for the transaction.

Imagine how much more connected we’d be to our communities.

We hear a lot about how supporting small, locally-owned businesses helps the local economy, and that’s true and a good motivation for some. 

It’s also good for connection. Which we seem to both crave and undervalue.

So ask your people for recommendations. Shops, restaurants, services. The small businesses will be grateful for your patronage much more than the big box stores or the giant internet store will be. And maybe the sense of community or belonging will ratchet up just a bit.

I posted a link to this on social media and I tagged Burst of Butterflies on it. I got this reply:

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