Older and Wiser: Connecting with Local Business Owners

by Christina Baris | 4/24/19 2:10am

"Oh, I’d love to visit, but don’t you go to college literally in the middle of the woods? There’s just so much more to do in the city.”

Every time I make plans to visit friends from other colleges, they almost always insist that I go to their college. To be fair, Dartmouth’s location isn’t exactly central, so I understand the “middle of the woods” argument. After all, most Dartmouth students’ first college experience begins with First-Year Trips, during which we surrender all ties to the outside world and disappear into the woods for five days. Yet somehow, we exit those woods with new friends and fond memories. The wilderness fosters community — it’s part of our brand.  

Before starting college, I’d lived in the same small town for my entire life. I thought that I knew everything there was to know about my town: the best study spots, free parking places and every restaurant that was open past midnight. 

I could not have been more wrong. Turns out, there was a lot that I didn’t know. There were places I had unknowingly walked past each day — places I had ignored simply because I was stuck in my own routine. So, I vowed to be more adventuresome in college. 

Honestly, I can’t say that I’ve completely kept that promise to myself. Routines are just too easy to get stuck in. I can’t even remember the last time I switched up my order at King Arthur Flour. But true adventure, I’ve realized, requires more than simply switching my beloved coffee order or study spot. So, I decided to look just beyond Dartmouth and explore the town of Hanover, making an effort to travel off the beaten path. 

When talking to owners of local businesses in Hanover, it is apparent that the small size of Hanover facilitates strong relationships between business owners and customers. Michael Reed is the owner of Robert’s Flowers of Hanover, and he appreciates the close relationships that he has fostered with his local customers because they allow him to excel in his craft and increase customer satisfaction. 

“A great advantage of being in small town America is that you know your customers. Specifically, me as a florist, we’ve had relationships with local customers for 20-30 years,” Reed said. “So, in terms of me doing arrangements, I know the color of couches in people’s houses.”

Bryan Smith, the owner of International DVD & Poster, has a similar experience. Smith has the opportunity to interact with the Dartmouth students that visit his store, giving him a unique perspective on student life. Recently, Smith even collaborated with a Dartmouth student, Sophia Bailey ’22. While she was shopping for records, Bailey overheard Smith telling another customer that he has worked with student artists and photographers in the past. While checking out, she asked him about his past student collaborations and showed him her artwork. Within a week, Bailey and Smith had chosen one of Bailey’s designs and turned it into a poster.

“It was a project I had done where you take an old vintage propaganda poster and re-purpose it for something that you believe in,” Bailey said. 

Bailey’s poster, which was based off the popular “Attack on All Fronts” WWII propaganda poster, reads “Attack the Glass Ceiling on All Fronts.” 

By chance, Bailey was able to take something as simple as shopping for records and posters and turn it into an opportunity to make something meaningful and important to her. Smith recognizes the significance of this collaboration. 

“When I print it up and start selling it, it will make her a professional artist,” Smith said.

Despite this interesting interaction between a local business and a Dartmouth student, many other stores that are off of Main Street often go unnoticed by students. As the novelty of college life begins to fade, it is easy to get stuck in a routine on campus. Because of this, not many students take the time to go off campus and discover new places in Hanover.  

“One of the things I’ve noticed since we’ve opened is that we’re not seeing the students in town as much,” Smith said. 

It’s very easy to go about my daily routine without ever leaving campus. I could spend 10 weeks within the boundaries of Dartmouth’s campus and get along just fine. Yet, when I think back to the adventure-seeking promise I made myself last summer, staying on campus all the time seems to fall short of my own expectations. It turns out I don’t need to travel very far off campus to discover something new.  

Furthermore, as the college decision deadline rapidly on May 1st, millions of high school seniors across the country must make what seems like the most important decision of their lives. The town surrounding a college is an important factor to consider when choosing a college. Smith, who has interacted with many prospective students throughout the years, has some advice. 

“One of the things I always tell every student is to walk around every campus on your own. Send family away because you’re going to be going to college on your own,” Smith said. “Trust that little voice in the back of your head. Here, you’re part of a family, part of a community — not part of a process. A single voice can make a difference here. If you want to make a change, you can.”

Getting to talk to business owners around town was a great reminder that there is more to Hanover than the cyclical routine that I find myself in at Dartmouth. Whenever I crave variety, I know that I don’t have to travel too far to discover something new. Sometimes, it pays off to take the road less traveled.