Small businesses make communities — whether densely populated urban areas or small towns — feel like home. It’s no secret that many businesses have been struggling over the past year. In New York City alone, almost 3,000 businesses closed between last March and August, and small businesses shed 520,000 jobs. Across the country, small businesses, from bakeries to shoe stores to day care centers, have struggled to stay afloat amid pandemic restrictions and a recession. But through these challenges, small businesses continue to touch their customers’ lives. And many patrons are more loyal than ever to the people behind these businesses.
The most loved small business workers do more than sell products: They foster a sense of community. To better understand how local businesses do this, we asked our readers to tell us about a small business they love. More than 500 people wrote in to share how small businesses and their employees have offered them kindness in hard moments, brought them joy and reinforced a sense of community even during periods of isolation. Here are four grateful customers, in their own words, on the small businesses that are special to them. These accounts, drawn from interviews and submissions, have been edited and condensed.