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Credit: Amanda Jiacheng Shen

Last semester, I stopped by the then Penn Book Center each time I had a few minutes to spare before my Penn and Slavery Project class with Dr. Kathleen Brown began across the street. My eyes lit up each time the perfectly wrapped books I purchased were handed to me. I could not stop buying books, partly because I enjoyed looking at the perfect bundle wrapped in pink, orange, green, and blue lined paper, and partly because I was proud of the way the Penn community joined together to support the store when PBC was facing closure last April.

Last week, the bookstore, now known as People’s Books and Culture, announced its permanent closure. The images of the store’s empty shelves solidified PBC’s unforeseen end. The text I sent to my group chat of friends was met with multiple capitalized expressions of sadness. PBC has been a Penn community staple for over 58 years, and losing what it has contributed to Penn’s campus is completely devastating. 

PBC closed because its new owners' plans to make the bookshop viable required a healthy economy. PBC customers didn’t see the current shake to the US economy coming, and, like many other unprecedented happenings, the whiplash of change continues to be a lot to process — especially for those who enjoyed the feeling of walking out of PBC with a book or two in their hands. 

It is up to us, as consumers, to support small, local businesses. We can do this in our hometowns and when we are able to return safely to campus. With news of Acme opening in October, equipped with another unnecessary Starbucks, in replacement of The Fresh Grocer on 40th and Walnut, now is the time to avidly support small businesses in West Philadelphia. With the addition of the new Starbucks, we will now have six Starbucks on campus. 

Small businesses are grapevines to their communities as they offer spaces for neighbors to communicate regularly. Walking into my local Stanley’s True Value Hardware store is a much different experience than entering a Home Depot. Last week, while buying a hose, I chatted with my neighbor about the taste benefits of a charcoal grill and our appreciation for the growth of the family-owned store we were standing in. Not only are you are more likely to run into a familiar face at a local business, these stores help maintain strong, local connections, even when you don’t anticipate it. 

Small businesses create jobs, connect people, care about their impact, attend community events to engage with neighbors, fundraise, and highlight community values. Many of them support local artists by displaying art in their storefront. In fact, last fall I displayed some of my own photography at my favorite community-loving coffee shop, High Point Cafe, as a way to fundraise for a local non-profit. This is not an opportunity offered at any of the Starbucks stores we have on campus. 

Small businesses are closing at rapid rates: over 100,000 businesses have closed over the last 3 months in the U.S., which is over 2% of the nation’s small businesses. In comparison, 3% of the nation’s restaurants have closed their doors permanently at the hands of the pandemic. The cost of rent and the lack of revenue pushed many of these businesses over the edge. Small businesses do not have the kind of money that big corporations do to fall back on, if they struggle to stay afloat. Now is the time to support a local West Philadelphia gym owner like Nate McIntyre over his controversial big name chain competitors. Now is the time to make the extra effort.

The warm feeling that comes over me when my local barista hands me my café au lait, made perfectly, without me saying a word, will always be better than the average, rushed experience at Starbucks. Even with Congress approving a historic $700 billion dollar support vessel for small businesses, the presence of loss continues to be staggering. Now is the time for us to navigate how we can support small and local businesses instead of  big businesses that, despite an economic recession, will continue to multiply down the block from one another.

JESSICA GOODING is a rising College senior from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania studying History and English. Her email address is jgooding@sas.upenn.edu.

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