How Downtown Shopping Districts Can Use Main and Me To Fight The Internet And Win

(The following is a true re-enactment of one of several events that led to the creation of the Main and Me app, available here. Enjoy.)

Once upon a time there was a town, and in that town there were many independent shopkeepers, and in a little office in that town there was a Downtown Director whose job it was to promote all the independent shops–a job made more difficult for lack of resources, and because the merchants didn’t always agree on what should be done.

One of the problems the shopkeepers had was that the internet was stealing away their shoppers the same way the regional malls and the Big Box Stores had stolen away their shoppers in an earlier time. To add insult to injury, the internet didn’t live in their town, so it didn’t pay local taxes, and it was never asked to support the community services that made the town a safe and beautiful place to live, so even though the shoppers went away, the downtown shopkeepers still did their share to support the local hospital, and the local library, and the local high school sports teams, and so on and so forth.

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There seemed to be nothing they could do about their internet problem. It wasn’t that they needed to start doing ecommerce, it was that they needed to be sure that online shoppers (because nowadays everyone shops online) could discover the goods and services they sold, before those shoppers automatically defaulted to Amazon and Target and the other non-local brands that got all the attention online.

Then one day a distraught man appeared at the door of a downtown shop. He approached the shopkeeper and showed her a photo taken by his wife of a pair of earrings she had discovered in that shop. He explained that it was the afternoon of his anniversary, that his wife was a big supporter of all things local, and that she had taken the photo so that he would know exactly what she wanted for the occasion–and where to buy it locally.

As he held out his credit card to buy them, a lightbulb turned on above the shopkeeper’s head. She thought to herself, “Self, what if I made it possible for every shopper who comes in my store to take a photo of their favorite things, then share those photos online with friends and family so everyone always knew what to get everyone else, and where to get it locally??!! Why, it could be like having a personal fly on the wall at all your favorite local shops, and having that cute little fly being able to whisper in the ear of anyone who was wondering what you’d like for a gift.”

The shopkeeper turned back to the man, gave him a huge kiss on the cheek, then bounded out of her shop and onto Main Street, leaving the man surprised (but happy). Without looking back, she ran to the local men’s clothing store, and then to the cigar shop, and then to the insurance company, and then to the burger joint, then to the bakery, until she had gathered a crowd of  fellow shopkeepers in the center of Main Street, whereupon she threw Mary Tyler Moore’s hat in the air and shouted: “I’ve got it!!!!”

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She then explained the whole idea to them. “What if we all take photos of what we sell, and upload them to create online galleries or Store Pages for each of our shops…

“…and then what if we made a Community Page for the whole town that featured all of our individual Store Pages, so online and mobile shoppers could browse and windowshop our town online…

“…and what if we made an iPhone and Android app so that new shoppers could take photos of their favorite things in our stores,

and when they uploaded those photos to their personal wish lists and registries, they would also be automatically added to what’s already on our store pages, so any online shopper from this day forward could search for–and see–the newest things for sale in our brick and mortar stores, and find local sources for the things they might otherwise buy from Amazon…”

She took a deep breath.

“…and what if we made it possible for individual shoppers to like, comment on, and add the things in our store galleries to their own personal online wish lists and registries, then share those wish lists and registries with friends and family so…well…so a grandmother in Seattle could buy a grandson who lives here a toy he wish-listed from our local toy store…or so a wedding guest coming from Boston could buy a bride who lives here the set of china she registered from our local china shop, and so…well…so everyone from anywhere could always know what their friend who lives here wants, and where to buy it LOCALLY??!!…

She paused to study the shopkeepers’ faces. “Well, wouldn’t that be a good idea?”

As you can imagine, that was a lot for a crowd of busy shopkeepers to take in. There were some skeptics. “Tooth Fairy!” cried one. “We already use Pinterest, why do we need this?” shouted another (for which there was a handy answer in the form of a blog link.) “Who’s gonna pay for this?” asked another.

“No one’s gonna pay, ” came a steady voice from the sidewalk. It belonged to the Downtown Director. “All of this already exists. It’s called http://www.mainandme.com. It’s based on the idea of mobile photo sharing, and it’s FREE. Grownups and kids already love mobile photo sharing, but Main and Me turns all that energy into something good for the whole community, not just one person. It’s sort of like the whole town forming a cashmob, only we’d be a photo mob, and the photos we upload would benefit ALL the shops in town, not just one. It’s like Instagram, Pinterest and Etsy all got together and had a baby, only it’s a giant, adorable, 100% local-supportive baby…meaning malls, big box stores and Big Internet Retail are NOT welcome to participate,  and can Never. Steal. Our. Shoppers. Away. Again.

“It’s like…”

“Allright, allright,” said the busy shopkeepers. “We get it. But why is it called Main and Me?”

“Because the name underscores the fact that we all have a role in supporting the local businesses who support our communities.”

“But why didn’t you tell us about it before this?” asked the crowd.

“Because it’s new and I didn’t hear about it until I got to this part of the story, just like you.”

Well, the shopkeepers got busy that very day taking photos, adding search categories to them and uploading them to their free store pages, and the shoppers who had stopped on the sidewalk to listen pulled out their digital cameras and smartphones, formed a photo mob on the spot, and started walking up and down Main Street taking photos of their favorite local goods and services.

In a word, the whole town got busy putting itself online. And do you know what?

By evening, about 100 people had snapped, categorized and uploaded about 50 photos each, creating an online gallery of 5,000 (!) beautiful, wondrous things that online shoppers could search for, windowshop for, and wish list…just in time for the holiday shopping season. Just think of how many photos they could have uploaded if they’d started before lunch?! And all because of that one woman who had taken that one photo of that one pair of earrings to help that one husband remember their anniversary.

Thank you, clever woman. Sleep tight, smart husband. Call us at 413-250-8800, shopkeepers and downtown directors, and let’s start getting your town online today:)

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