In 1888, just shy of an exciting new century, Americans were introduced to Sears’ seminal catalog. The humble packet of mailable papers would go on to flip consumerism on its head by making mail-ordered goods accessible to the masses. It was a new era; anyone with an address was no longer confined to a manageable day’s travel to gather everyday products. Over a century later, the dawn of the internet age has provided consumers with a worldwide reach when selecting goods.
In a world where intercontinental goods can arrive within days (sometimes delivered by robots) it can be easy to lose sight of the value of shopping locally. In 2019 it’s not uncommon for mom-and-pop stores to be elbowed out by big-box franchises, or for those franchises to in turn be sunk by far more tech-savvy options like Amazon. Convenience is indisputably king, but community is still very much alive and kicking as a driving force of where consumers choose to spend their money.
Summit Comics and Games stands proudly as a bastion for East Lansing’s “nerd” culture; a hub for comic enthusiasts and sci-fi/fantasy role-players alike.
“We believe that small businesses like ours are able to connect with customers in a way that larger businesses can’t,” Said Summit store manager Matthew Hunt. “We are part of the community. And being part of the community helps develop friendships that make a difference.”
The close-knit and active nature of their niche customer bases have certainly helped a hometown brick-and-mortar establishment like Summit offer a sense of community that online vendors and department stores never could. Summit regularly hosts events to bring its customers, creators and sales staff closer together, including game nights, comic premieres and signings, giveaways, pop-culture comedy shows and much more.
“Some people love chains – giant, monstrous, all-consuming chains,” said Hunt. “But we can be niche and carry more graphic novels than stores like Barnes & Noble. More Funko Pop figures than Hot Topic or any other store. These are the same products that are available in the chains, but we specialize in them.”
While Summit enjoys its space confined to the Lansing area, another company with Michigan roots has branched out to locations on a national scale, all the while striving to keep true to its local mentality. Underground Printing has been providing custom-printed apparel to Michigan residents since 2001 under the name A-1 Screenprinting out of a University of Michigan dorm room. Five years later they opened a third location in East Lansing.
“We’ve been a part of this community since 2006 and love it,” Said UGP national sales manager Seth Greene. “Being a part of the local scene is truly something we enjoy. It gives us more of an appreciation for our city and the community that we are working and living in.”
While Underground Printing has expanded to include retail locations in 24 states, the company is still growing and hardly forgets its humble roots; a sense of community is paramount.
“Sometimes we do not have the same brand recognition, when it comes to retail, with the larger chains,” said Greene. “To us, this makes it all the more vital that we are part of the community and people are aware of who we are and what we stand for.”
Despite their differences, Lansing’s motley crew of establishments share a commitment to their customers, fellow business owners and the economy that serves as their bedrock. Among innumerable day-to-day gestures and practices, these community-minded businesses express their solace through the American Express-endorsed Small Business Saturday. Created in 2010 as a reaction to the fallout experienced by many small businesses during the recession, Small Business Saturday is a nationally recognized observance that promotes a oneness among local businesses to drive consumers inward toward businesses right in their hometowns.
On their involvement in the holiday, Greene said: “We think it is important to support the community around you, not just us, because all of us together help to shape the city. By being involved, we are helping promote that plan and also trying to help promote the ‘buy local’ atmosphere in and of itself.”
Summit expresses a similar affinity to its local customers through the program. “Our involvement in Small Business Saturday is just being one of the many great small businesses in Lansing that just want to make our customers happy.” said Greene.
In a time of rapid expansion and convenience it’s important to remember the hometown heroes who bring customers the heart that big business just can’t. Take some time to shop small and you’ll win big.