Help preserve the culture that makes Rochester unique

We've all heard it: "Rochester looks just like every other town." Yes, as our fair city does currently boast nine Kwik Trips, five McDonalds and two Wal-Marts (all national chains), one must admit to seeing a grain of truth in that statement.

In many ways, Rochester does resemble hundreds of cities around the United States and, increasingly, the world. I'll spare you the lecture about globalization and homogenization for today (I won't deny it: I enjoy Bruegger's Bagels as much as the next person), but the truth is, as national companies acquire more and more of the market share in any retail or service industry, especially at the expense of small entrepreneurs, individual regions and cities begin to lose the flavor and uniqueness that local businesses bring.

However, despite the considerable national influence in Rochester, a homegrown culture survives. From the shoe store, novelty shop, restaurants and art gallery that line Rochester's downtown Peace Plaza to the farmers' market, small businesses have, beneath the bustle of the chain stores, grown to fill niches in our city. Though they cannot always compete with superstores in the breadth of their offerings, these businesses are often more in tune with the local vibe and are able to cater to both loyal patrons and newcomers.

Many people also find fulfillment in working for locally run businesses, as the small size and local ownership often create ideal working conditions and the potential for close employee/management relationships. In many cases, because there are not pre-established restrictions and codes, smaller businesses enjoy more flexibility in their operations. Following this precedent, employees are better able to speak their minds and impact the way that a business is run, leading to higher levels of employee satisfaction and customer service.

Starting and sustaining a small business is certainly not a walk in the park. Entrepreneurs must almost always take risks: borrowing against their homes, taking out long-term loans, trusting investment partners to honor their agreements and making serious time investments -- sometimes at the expense of family time and budget.


The time from the start up to the first profits is often frustratingly long, necessitating excessive finger crossing and the proverbial "tightening of the belt." Additionally, small businesses often face serious competition from established national corporations that have the capital to back new venues with only moderate risk while relying on established codes of operation import routes, hiring, etc., to ensure a much smoother start up.

In the corporation-influenced world we live in, not having a brand name or an established reputation can also hurt a small business and its chances for success. Against such odds, it's incredible that anyone makes a cast into today's business world.

Luckily, many do.

Now far be it from me to portray every start-up as an idyllic mom and pop store, filled with happy employees and quality merchandise. Certainly local ownership is no guarantee of customer satisfaction. However, we should make a conscious effort to give local business owners a chance.

By patronizing local stores and services, we not only impact the lives and dreams of people from our community, as well as the region's economy, but we can help to preserve the culture that makes Rochester unique.

Mikaela Hagen is a senior at Mayo High School. To respond to an opinion column, call 252-1111, category TEEN (8336); write Teen Beat, Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 559036118 or send e-mail to

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