Opinion Columns & Blogs

Local business thrive because they are so good at this one particular thing

This Macon brewery is opening a taproom downtown

Yash Patel, the owner of Macon Beer Company, talks on Tuesday about how the brewery is opening a new taproom next to Bearfoot Tavern.
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Yash Patel, the owner of Macon Beer Company, talks on Tuesday about how the brewery is opening a new taproom next to Bearfoot Tavern.

I write this from Cathedral Coffee on Zebulon Road in Macon. It is built into the side of Northway Church. This morning I went to Taste & See Coffee in downtown Macon on Poplar Street. Both coffee shops offer a superior cup of coffee to Starbucks and faster wireless internet as well.

Cathedral Coffee seems to be a still undiscovered presence in north Macon. It has a drive-thru window for people headed into their offices in the morning. Its service is speedy. Its coffee is great. There are rarely people in the shop. I would hesitate to tell people where I like to come write, except I am afraid that without more foot traffic the coffee shop may not last. That would be a shame and seems entirely because no one knows there is a coffee shop on Zebulon Road with a drive-thru window. So, on your way from north Macon into downtown, swing through the parking lot of Northway Church and get an actually wonderful cup of coffee instead of the mass marketed swill you get at the mermaid joint.

When you get downtown, go by Taste & See Coffee, which typically gets a good amount of collegiate traffic from Mercer and also has great coffee. The point of all of this is not to shill for local coffee shops, but to make a larger point. With the rise of Starbucks and other national chain coffee shops, the conventional wisdom had always been that the small independent shops would go out of business. Remarkably, nationwide data shows independent coffee shops are doing very well. People go to the mass market places and drink their burned swill, discover there might be something to it if only it was better, then seek out the smaller shops that offer a superior product.

The same has been true for other businesses as well. The massive chain hardware stores should have put Ace Hardware and Karsten-Denson out of business years ago. But those stores responded with superior products, vastly better customer service, and the hard to find items one could never get in the national big box stores. Even consider Best Buy, which should have gone out of business years ago. Instead, to compete against online ordering and discount warehouses, Best Buy stepped up their customer service, now makes house calls and walked away from commissioned based salespeople so when the store employee makes a recommendation, you do not have to presume it is for a commission.

The moral of the story is that customer service works. It works to differentiate the little guy against the big buy. Superior products work, too. It is far easier for the big box retail stores to sell mass marketed, one-size fits all products. The small stores differentiate themselves by selling the better products that may be a bit pricier, but will hold up over time. I go to Karsten-Denson in Ingleside Village when I have something growing on my tomato plants and need a knowledgeable person to help me. I go to Ace Hardware on Forsyth to get plants for the garden and drool over the Big Green Eggs. I go to Lowes when I need a light bulb.

The small, independent retailers do not have it easy. But they so often have better products and service it is worth seeking them out. It is worth walking into Cathedral Coffee or Taste & See to find good coffee and quiet spaces. It is worth supporting small businesses and good to know more and more Americans agree.

Erick Erickson hosts Atlanta’s Evening News on WSB Radio.