USA TODAY - I live on the west coast, and as fate would have it, I was in Boston last week.
I was there with my wife and youngest daughter looking at colleges, and we ended up staying about a block from the perimeter that was set up after the bombings.
I have been to Boston a few times, and like most everyone else, I have always found it an easy city to love. Whether it was the No Name Restaurant, the rich history, or the smorgasbord of smart students, the city always had a great vibe.
But more than any of those things, what I really love about Boston are Bostonians. Friendly and outgoing, no-nonsense and strong, Bostonians always seem to exemplify what it means to be an American.
Of course, being MrAllBiz, I took special note of the role small businesses played after the bombings. Probably my favorite story was that of the juice bar that set itself up after the attack to be a way station for the needy. Offering folks a place to rest, and eat for free, to make a phone call to a loved one, or just regroup, the shop showed why small businesses -- like Boston, like Bostonians, like Americans -- are special.
Many things make up the fabric of a society - big institutions and little traditions. Often overlooked is the vital role small business plays in the civic pageant. Think about it: What happens to a city or town when the downtown core goes vacant? Urban blight, that's what.
At the center of almost every city and town on the perennial "Best Places to Live" lists is an area made up of -- you bet -- uniquely local small businesses. That is as true in Boston as it is in Portland, as it is in Boulder, San Antonio, San Diego, Raleigh, and Minneapolis. Small business not only creates a destination, it also provides a tax base, a sense of identity, jobs, and a community.
And when small businesses desert an area, what happens? The area suffers, big time. Whether it is Detroit -- which, by the way, is wooing back entrepreneurs with some great programs now -- or that mall down the way with the empty shops, the dearth of small business is often the death of a locale.
What local small businesses offer is something that cannot easily be duplicated by big business or national franchises. They are not the same. Oh sure, these companies want to be good citizens for the most part, and they do their darndest to try and fit in, but nothing beats local small businesses who have a finger on the pulse and the needs of a city and who in turn give a city an identity.
So, in many ways, small business is the community we talk about when we say we want to live in a place with a strong sense of community. The restaurants, the shops and stores, the cafes and bars, and all the rest are owned by our neighbors. They employ our sons and daughters and spouses and friends. They sell goods that are often made locally and the money they earn stays in the local economy. They know what you like and they sell it to you. They support the Little League team, sponsor the NPR station, and give to the school that is is having a tough time with its budget.
So, across this country, when times get tough - not as tough as they were in Boston last week for sure, but tough in other ways - it is the small business community that usually steps up to the plate. These idealistic, hard-working, creative, community-minded entrepreneurs are the Bostonians of the business world -- friendly and happy, no-nonsense and strong.
Steve Strauss is a lawyer specializing in small business and entrepreneurship. His column appears Mondays. E-mail Steve at: firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his columns is here. His website is TheSelfEmployed.