Let’s Build Community Together!

Will you continue to put emphasis on small business? One of the most gratifying experiences of the past two years has been consumers coming back to smaller brands, small business and shopping local. As proprietor of Poet and/the Bench, our brick and mortar and online platform for emerging and independent designers and artists, we have seen a resurgence (especially through the pandemic) in what is our collective “sense of place.”

It used to be that the arts and culture history and engaging experiences that a town offers was part of its fabric. The place where emotive bonds and attachments formed outside your home—you hung work by the local artist, your grocer knew you and your kids by name, the barber was practically family, you celebrated at local restaurants and swapped recipes, clothes and stories throughout the neighborhood. And then chains and big box stores blanded our villages, and massive e-commerce gave us the temptation of shopping from our couch. Now we’re migrating to our screens on the run, shopping while on the subway or walking down the street, we’re showrooming the brick and mortars and finding deals online instead of supporting the proprietors who gave you the discovery in the first place.

Identifying with your local town, the nuances and character of what makes it someplace different from everywhere else, is inherent in enjoying it as a “sense of place.” Your experiences, then memories, then histories are passed down—legends of locals from generation to generation. Even as the place itself changes, whether that’s architecturally, the natural landscape (more trees! less trees!), the businesses, the aging of the people... our emotions and and feelings about it are steeped in nostalgia.

But could you say the same about mass consumerism?

At Poet and/the Bench we’re working to preserve the history of creative placemaking. To be a destination to support community and small batch makers across diverse cultures, races, gender, sexual orientation—with a focus on narrative. Our mission is to elevate the relationship we have with limited edition objects of appreciation (our focus is mostly on jewelry, art, home goods and apothecary) in order to create more intimate connections between the object and the maker. So you shop with an examined sense of story in a place that feels welcoming and familiar. A place you’re likely to stay connected to because it’s personal and important.

Youth in Arts Event at Poet and/the Bench
Youth in Arts event at Poet and/the Bench 

Studies show that arts and culture initiatives in towns lead to continued economic development: supporting artists, supporting the businesses that promote the artists and bringing revenue to other neighboring businesses; it continues to support and amplify a sense of place (locality) and abundance (the network effect of having more reasons for people to spend time here); the arts and culture experience is community building, and it is a catalyst for connections (old and new); and brings new visions.

We would also contend that supporting small businesses generally—their talents and economic success—is another way we attach to our communities because they too bring unique aspects to the shaping of community. Our villages are a welcoming place because of the visible, active nature of the owners of the businesses [most of them] being on premise. People want to live and congregate there. It's not a mall. It's not Main Street USA. When in proximity to each other, we create an abundance of foot traffic that benefits us all, we create connections in the community as people see others they know, we increase people wanting to walk and leave their cars aside because they have more to see and do within proximity (and which helps our planet, too!). We make things more interesting and thus we are an essential part of the city's identity.

Further, when you have strong community, there is the power of many. Your connection becomes more consequential—you look after the aging neighbor, when racial injustice occurs you stand together, you show up and lend your voice to issues impacting the environment, our ecosystems and the problems that impact our livelihoods. You are of, and for, the entire placeness.

In short, ‘sense of place is the lens through which people experience and make meaning of their experiences in and with place’ (Adams, 2013).

Poet and/the Bench functions not only as a platform for design, but as a community hub. We support local organizations and institutions, and often are connecting strangers who can mutually benefit from meeting, exposing young (in age and at heart) minds to art, process and ideas, and often we listen to stories of joy, and pain, as people connect to a designer’s art in our shop through memory, meaning, intention. We fundamentally enjoy creating community and relationships—the heart of creative placemaking—and giving you a sense of place where you can be.

It’s so cool to see the [re]embracing of small over these past two years especially. For those of us retailers who survived/are surviving the pandemic (and we’re kind of rare…it’s incredibly sad to see so many empty store fronts in the Bay Area and in other places we visit; the devastation of losing your livelihood does not go unnoticed by us)—for us today, and for future generations—will you continue to shift your habits? Help ensure the creative placemaking in your area thrives? Get to know your local shops, their proprietors and staff, get to know their passions, support their vision by returning again and again, shop their online store and spread the word on social about them. You’ll also reap the benefits of being part of the “Cheers” of your village, where you’re known and feel the bonds of belonging.

Being small business owners is challenging at the best of times. Your recognition of our curation and support of the talented designers we carry keeps us—and them—going. And keeps your neighborhood character something distinctive, charming, authentic and artistic.

Let’s dialogue… and be a friend, follow @poetandthebench and visit us at poetandthebench.comand give a shout out to your fave small brand. Let’s build community together!