I'm a child of the 50's, a Baby Boomer, and I grew up in a small Midwest town where the shopping district was the town square. The stores even stayed open until 9:00 p.m. on Friday nights.

Those were the days before strip malls, WalMart super centers and even indoor malls. Absolutely everyone gathered for late night shopping each Friday and we all knew the store owners and workers by their first names. 

They even knew OUR first names. How time has changed! 

But it wasn't long before strip malls, national chain stores, and big-box stores started popping up in the larger towns and cities. We shopped at stores we had never heard of and saw things for sale that our town square stores didn't offer. We always came home with the car trunk loaded . . . especially at Christmas time.

So, slowly but surely, shopping at the town square stores slowed down and many of the stores actually closed due to lack of business. 

The buildings are still there today; 2 and 3 story tall stately brick buildings with fancy stonework at the tops and some even had the year they were built with the owner's name and business engraved. The old courthouse has long since been torn down, like many in recent years, and has been replaced by a much less grand building several blocks from the downtown center. Today, there is really not much reason to even go to the town square unless you just need to drive around it to get to another side of town. 

Now, however, there seems to be a change in people's shopping habits. 

Could it be the bad economy? The high gas prices?  The number of people out of work? Or, are the hometown stores learning how to compete but at a different level with different goods?  Things seem to be turning around for downtown, at least in my town.  

Lots of us are looking to eat local and shop where we know the first names of the shop owners and they know our names. We have a tea room that draws people from miles around. You can't just walk in anymore, you need a reservation. 

Our antique and craft malls have been rated number 1 in a recent survey by a neighboring city newspaper.   

I guess you could say, supersized isn't as super as it used to be - especially when you have to drive 20 to 50 miles one way. 

I'm finding that there are bonuses to shopping my local stores including saving time and gas, and often money. It is becoming fashionable to support your local neighborhood merchants. 

Many times, independent/local retailers can give you a better buy; especially on appliances, eyeglasses, electronics and drugstore items beating out national chains and even Walmart.  Local shoppers are becoming happier and happier with the service, convenience and product quality. My husband and I have found that our independent retailers can be very competitive on price, especially if you try to negotiate (or haggle as my husband likes to do). 

Small businesses rely on repeat business so they want to make sure you get exactly what you need at the best price. 

Keep in mind that local small businesses funnel money back into the local economy. One local purchasing study found that out of $100 spent in an independent business, about $68 goes back into the community. Spend that same $100 in a chain store and just $43 stays local. Our local businesses sponsor little league teams, most any youth activity in town, and host events like wine tasting, farmer's market days, free outdoor movies on the town square during the summer,  buy ads in the high school yearbooks and give to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. 

In fact, our town retailers are happy to give to just about any good cause and really don't expect  thanks or special forms of advertising. 

To sum it up, I like to shop locally because it's fun to browse without being overrun with sales people, I feel I'm doing something worthwhile by supporting small-business owners, I like and appreciate the personal customer service, the location can't be beat because I'm not driving 25 miles to get what I want and we have several stores offering unique or specialty products. 

I guess you could say that I have become "Hometown Proud"! 

Find out what's new in your downtown . . . you may be pleasantly surprised. 

Good luck with hometown shopping!

Kimberly Johns, Debt Management Plan Customer with Leading Provider of Debt Relief, CareOne Services, Inc.Kimberly Johns

Kimberly is enrolled on the CareOne Debt Management Plan (DMP). Kimberly is very active in the Community Forums, some of you may recognize her Community user name; Tiquie. Recently retired, Kim shares how she and her husband manage the financial challenges of living on a fixed income in their home state of Illinois. The John's have found some really creative and fun ways to offset the limitations of a retirement income. Kimberly generously shares smart and tested tips in her A Straight Talk on Debt blog! Compensated Blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services.