What Are Your Favorite Local Businesses?

What Are Your Favorite Local Businesses?

Local, independent businesses are part of what makes a city or town unique, especially with the proliferation of chain stores and restaurants across the country and around the world.

Are there any local businesses where you live that you want to celebrate? Perhaps they are a hangout spot, serve a regional specialty or have been around for generations.

If not in your own community, have you found such places while traveling?

In “Where Southerners Go to Fill the Tank and Feed the Family,” Kim Severson writes about a new photography book that documents rural gas stations in the South. The article begins:

New York City has its bodegas. The South has its gas stations.

When you stop for motor oil in Mississippi, you can also grab fried chicken on a stick. In North Carolina, you can buy a steamy bowl of pozole along with batteries and a five-pound bag of White Lily flour.

There might be shawarma next to the shotgun shells, or wedges of mild hoop cheese and packets of saltines for sale at the counter along with lottery tickets and pecan pie that the owner’s sister made.

Documenting these independent Southern temples of commerce and community has become a singular focus for the photojournalist Kate Medley, who, like most kids raised in Mississippi, grew up eating at rural gas stations.

Now living in Durham, N.C., Ms. Medley, 42, has spent more than a decade collecting images for her book of photographs, “Thank You Please Come Again,” which the digital magazine The Bitter Southerner published in December. The book began with a journalist’s curiosity, but ended up as a way for a daughter of the Deep South to make sense of the beautiful, brutal, complicated place she came from.

The article continues:

A dozen years ago, Ms. Medley discovered a Citgo in Durham that had become a Nicaraguan place called the Latin America Food Restaurant. She developed a theory.

“I thought I could chart the emerging immigrant foodways of the South by way of what was happening in the backs of these gas stations,” she said.

Some independent gas stations are fading in the fluorescent light of chains like QuikTrip and RaceTrac, with their cheap gasoline, hot-dog rollers and endless banks of soda machines. Some station owners let the gas pumps run dry or remove them altogether because the local economy is too depressed. Other gas stations have become churches or nightclubs, or have been abandoned altogether.

The book opens with an essay by the Southern writer Kiese Laymon, who grew up in a very different part of Jackson, Miss., than Ms. Medley. She didn’t know him when she reached out, but he understood her project immediately.

“I’d never thought about the fact that my favorite restaurants, as a child, as a teenager, as an adult returning to Mississippi, nearly all served gas,” he writes. “And I never, ever, thought of them as gas stations that served food.”

He tells the story of childhood trips to Jr. Food Mart in Forest, Miss., on Friday nights. His grandmother’s boyfriend, Ofa D, would slip in a Tina Turner tape and drive them in his pickup. They’d order a box of dark-meat chicken, a foam container of fried fish and a brown paper sack filled with the fried potato wedges everyone in Mississippi knows as potato logs.

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

  • What are your favorite local businesses? What makes them special? What do you think your community might lose if they closed?

  • What can someone learn about a place by eating or shopping at its local businesses?

  • If you had the chance, would you want to stop at any of the rural gas stations described in the article? Would you want to eat there? Why?

  • Would you ever want to undertake a project like Kate Medley’s effort to document rural gas stations in Southern states? Why or why not? What region or type of place would you want to shine a spotlight on?

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.