A writer, a scientist, a philosopher, a mathematician, a musician, a poet, a researcher and an artist walk into a coffee shop. They order coffee, and next thing you know … they sit down and talk to each other. You may have been waiting for the punchline, but there isn’t one here. The fact is, these sorts of meetups happen all the time at hubs of local community culture. Whether at a coffee shop, restaurant, local thrift shop or anywhere else people of diverse backgrounds run into each other, these places often have one thing in common — they are local businesses. It’s the type of place that says “world famous,” on the front, but is really only regionally popular. But in this case, it makes no less difference — a community and its innovators are built around these types of places. And their survival is a key component to any innovative community’s survival — and eventual prosperity. Riverside is no exception.
While some may squabble over Riverside’s recent ranking by Forbes of being the eighth coolest city in the country, the city does have plenty to offer in terms of local businesses with a great diversity of options for the community. Places like the Blood Orange Info-Shop, Back to the Grind, Groovers, Molinos, Cellar Door Books, the Culver Center and Riverside Art Museum are just a few of the places where people from all walks of life can congregate and exchange thoughts and ideas. They are invaluable places that are essentially a safe spot for those of any social stature. Anyone from a down-on-their-luck musician to a scientist with grand new ideas for their next project can speak at open mics often provided at some of these establishments and ones similar to them. They also can house meetings and performances for groups with practically any interest. They promote an open atmosphere for anyone to speak their mind.
But don’t just take our word for it. According to a 2012 survey done in the Salt Lake City area, “independents bring substantial benefits to their local economies when compared to their chain competitors.” The same paper also said that shifting just 10 percent of consumer demand from chains to local stores would provide the regional economy with an extra $362 million, and $125 million more from restaurants. Now that’s a couple of states over, but the same concept could unarguably help Riverside and its local businesses in the same way.
So why is it so hard for some local businesses to survive? Recently, Back to the Grind looked to the community for renovation funds, setting up a GoFundMe page to help afford mandated renovations. Part of their page reads, “after 18 years of loyal service, Back to the Grind asks for your help. We need to make major changes to the shop to become ADA compliant. Regulations have changed since we opened 18 years ago and now under threat of a lawsuit, we must respond or close our doors. Also, times are changing, and the shop needs to keep up. So we’re turning to you.” The shop is aiming to raise $30,000.
This is likely more indicative of a huge expense suddenly being thrust on a local business all at once, but it also shows just how little financial leeway these types of places can have, even with significant community support. Larger chains are oftentimes simply easier to access, and sometimes cheaper. They also have access to vast reserves of money built up over decades that small businesses can’t hold a candle to. What cannot be found there, however, are all the things that the little hole-in-the-wall or mom-and-pop favorites provide.
These places are as reliant on you as you are to them. As much as you love the mish-mash of types of people and ideas that flow around your favorite local scene, they need you to survive. They provide a space, and with support, build a system for community and culture to grow.
Big things happen at little places. Riverside may not exactly be New York, but a little place called Greenwich Village helped spark many a movement in its day. And honestly, even if downtown Riverside doesn’t produce the next singer-songwriter to be the voice of his or her generation, don’t think twice, it’s alright. Someone who can speak to the local community and impassion them is just fine.
As students, we shouldn’t settle. As members of the largest research university in a place that often can forget it’s even a college town, supporting these places is our opportunity to make a mark on local culture and show what we have to offer to the community, and really, to each other. We owe it to ourselves to make our own college experience worthwhile, and a college experience is not just taking tests and writing essays. It’s talking about and experimenting with the subjects that make you passionate and light a fire under you, and finding like-minded people and people who think differently than you to bounce these ideas off of. So we encourage you to use our local hubs of ideas and exchange. They are rare in existence and provide invaluable insights and lessons that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
As writers and critics, we can prophesize with our pens — but it’s up to you to keep the times a-changin’. After all, we need to get coffee somewhere, right?