Technically speaking, I really am a city girl, but I do have a place in my heart for small towns thanks to my college life, my teaching experience, and a lot of country music. I think the country music really romanticized the concept of small-town living and many of the colleges I explored were located in pretty tiny towns compared to my Portland, Oregon hometown. As I toured these schools, I melded my super-urban high school experience with my country-music nostalgia and developed a personal criteria for a liveable small town: it needed to have a movie theater and a bowling alley 🙂
I wound up in Salem, Oregon which had all the big-town amenities but was only minutes from the countryside. As I spent time there and in Corvallis, Oregon, a true college town, and substitute teaching in the surrounding villages, and in the small town outside Portland where my parents own a house, I realized that a few business ideas could really liven up any small town. I’m not especially business-minded or interested in owning my own business, so I thought I’d just launch these ten ideas out into cyberspace (in no particular order) and see what happens. Note: these are primarily brick-and-mortar businesses since most web-based businesses can thrive from pretty much anywhere.
- A Coffee Shop/Pool Hall Combo
All small towns have bars. I present to you an alternative that would be especially cool if it employed only teenagers and college-aged students and stayed open late every night. Teens and young adults could have a safe place to meet up, study, hang out, drink appropriate beverages, learn job skills, get paid, and build real-world confidence while serving peers and adults alike.
- An Everything Rental Facility
By definition, small towns usually don’t have big box stores or quick options for purchasing entertainment or other things on the fly. Yes, the internet is a thing, but delivery takes time and sometimes you just want to borrow something. You could rent out anything from board games to wall art to baby paraphernalia to musical instruments to sports cars. Depends on your potential clientele and how big you want to go.
- A Multipurpose Center
One big room. An open gym, a wedding facility, a dance hall, a community center where classes like Zumba, yoga, and quilting could be taught, a Tuesday night Bingo hall. It could even have a big screen and folding chairs to be a movie theater. Basically, a grange.
- A Community Restaurant
Okay this idea isn’t totally original. I’m borrowing from Marion, North Dakota, home of my deep paternal roots. The whole community pitches in, either financially or by volunteering other pertinent skills, and takes turns serving the customers. Together they create a place to eat out in town.
- An Art Museum
Featuring local art: paintings, sculptures, wax images, dolls, recycled designs. Charge for admission and take a percentage from the sale of the art.
Not just any florist, but a florist who also grows his or her own flowers which are then used in the bouquets. This might be a good fit for a town that is small but near bigger towns where the people value shopping local and in season.
This could house a collection of services actually; perhaps they could rotate days on duty: a pharmacist, a counselor, a registered nurse, a doctor, a dentist, a chiropractor, a natureopath. The shop itself could sell your basic ailment relievers and natural alternatives and even tea and spices.
- Technology Specialist
Someone who has the skills to be an IT troubleshooter, a graphic designer, and a website creator. This person could consult with other local businesses and nearby farms to enhance their public images. Again, probably a good fit for a small town not far outside a bigger city.
- Clothing Caretaker
Part laundromat, part consignment store, and you could offer cobbling, tailoring and ironing services, too. You could even rent out evening attire like suits, gowns, and tuxes.
- Home and Auto Part Resale Store
Okay, this one is not particularly innovative, but for small towns far away from bigger cities it could be useful. The owner of this shop could purchase usable parts from farms and households and resell them for profit to people who need them. Sort of a middleman to connect people to what they need.
Now of course, most small towns can’t support all ten of these businesses, so pick the one or two that are best for your small town clientele and have fun, go mad! Bring some spice and vigor to your community.