It’s been almost a week since we wrapped up our Great American Mississippi River Road Trip. And what a beautiful week it was eating local, sleeping local, drinking local, shopping local, and of course talking all things local. We talked to so many wonderful people about the importance of supporting local businesses, supporting our Main Streets and downtown areas, and how local businesses give back to their communities when there is a need. Driving down the Mississippi River was reminiscent of Huck Finn’s adventures. The beautiful landscape and engaging characters we met were straight out of a classic novel.
On Monday we woke up in the Hotel 340 which was beautiful and right in the heart of St. Paul, Minnesota. We spent the day in Minneapolis talking with the executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota about why supporting our Main Streets and reinvesting in our communities are vital. At Jerry’s Do it Best we met with the store manager about how his business supported his family while he was deployed with the Army Reserves to Djibouti, Africa. We then went to Hirshfield’s and chatted with the father-daughter duo that owns the 124-year-old business. Next, we met with a board member from the NorthEast Investment Cooperative and the owners of two co-ops they supported: FairState Brewing Cooperative and Aki’s Breadhaus. We chatted about how they got started and why they decided the co-op route was best for them. We then hit the road so we could rest our heads in LaCrosse, WI. We stayed at The Charmant Hotel which happened to be an old candy factory! We all received a chocolate upon checking in and the rooms were incredible! The perfect place to relax before day two.
On Tuesday, we got up early and headed to Davenport, IA. Here we met with the director of the Hilltop Campus Village to discuss how they support local businesses like The Silver Key Tattoo and The Brewed Book (a used bookshop and coffee bar in one). We then headed about a mile further into downtown and met with the director of the Downtown Davenport Partnership about the growth and vitality of the downtown area and local businesses like Abernathy’s (a vintage clothing, jewelry, accessories, and oddities retail store), The Full Kit (a men’s shoe and clothing retail store), and Me & Billy Kitchen and Bar. Davenport was a unique community full of warm and inviting people.
On Wednesday, we woke up bright and early – well actually it was so early the sun wasn’t even up! Departing at 5:30 AM we were headed south to Cape Girardeau, MO. We made it to “The Cape” around midday. We met the husband and wife team who own Elias ACE Hardware and talked with both about the wonderful community they live in, how they worked with their church to send supplies and equipment to those affected by Hurricane Harvey (their daughter’s family moved to Houston 10 days before the storm hit), and why supporting our military and law enforcement officers is so important to them. We then learned about the work Heores Way does for the Gold-Star families throughout the state of Missouri from a board member. Finally, we wrapped by talking with one of the owners of Crader Distributing Company (a STIHL distributor) and their support of independent businesses as well as Resurrecting Lives – an organization that supports veterans who return home from combat with traumatic brain injuries. We then headed to eat and relax at The Southern by Tractors where we talked with the husband and wife owners about how they got started. We laughed, we cried, we loved the hearts of the men and women we met in Cape Girardeau.
On Thursday morning, we headed south again, this time for Memphis, TN! In Memphis, we first went to me with the owners of Paulette’s Closet and the Shab Chic Market Place, both located in the Medical District and supported by the Memphis Medical District Collaborative (MMDC). We spoke with the MMDC program manager about what makes Memphis unique and why she finds it important to support business start-ups in the area. We then headed for lunch at Central BBQ, where we spoke with the manager and ate to our heart's desire. DANG the food was good!!! I mean truly excellent! With full bellies, we made our way to Germantown Hardware and talked with one of their employees whose house burned down in a fire a few years ago just before Christmas. The store and her community rallied to support her, her husband, and her mentally handicapped son. Germantown came to her rescue! From Germantown, we traveled along the river to Greenville, MS where we spent the night before another long drive in the morning.
On Friday, we woke up ready to hit the road to head to probably one of the most exciting cities in America – New Orleans! Now, we stopped first in Baton Rouge, LA to meet with the owners and staff at Holmes Building Materials to learn about the 4th generation family owned business and how they supported not only the city but many of their employees after the devastating floods of 2016. Emotions were high and the appreciation and gratitude in the expansive store were palpable. The employees love their jobs, are proud to work for the Holmes family and the Holmes family loves their team and truly values each one of them. Next, we headed to New Orleans to chat with the brothers that own Mike’s Hardware and the 4th generation owner of Angelo Brocato’s. At both locations, we talked about how they faired during Hurricane Katrina, why they decided to rebuild or reopen afterward, and what the spirit of New Orleans is all about. These men also had some moving stories of resiliency and compassion. Finally, we wrapped up at Massey’s Outfitters where we spoke with the program manager of Stay Local and founder of Locally about why supporting local retailers helps keep our communities unique and vibrant.
This trip was one for the books. We saw large cities and drove through small towns with populations of 505. We saw cliffs, farmlands, men ice fishing, kids playing basketball and bald eagles soaring all along a slow, lazy river. But the most important thing we saw was hard-working Americans getting up every day to support each other. When you drive through the country and take the time to stop and talk to the folks in each area you’ll find that America is in a much better place than the evening news would have you believe. America is still full of people who love one another, people who comfort those who are suffering, people who support our military, and people who wake up every single day to turn the lights on in their stores to provide for their family, employees, and community. We want to thank everyone who helped us on our Mississippi River Road Trip. Thank you, STIHL, PPG Paints, Do it Best Corp. Thank you NRHA for allowing one of your reporters to join us. But most importantly thank you to everyone who gave up an hour or so of their day to let us in (physically and emotionally). Thank you for sharing your stories and inspiring us. All we ever want to do is support you!