Ally Banks and Jeremiah Cox

Hastings College freshmen Ally Banks and Jeremiah Cox spent December interviewing small business owners in Hastings. The pair were photographed Jan. 11, 2021, on the roof of the Tribune Building in downtown Hastings.

Two Hastings College freshmen from larger cities in other states say they have come to appreciate Hastings’ small-town qualities and the local businesses that prime the pump for its economy.

Ally Banks and Jeremiah Cox were given the assignment last month to report on locally owned businesses in hopes their storytelling using the Hastings Tribune’s print, digital and social media platforms would illustrate the importance of supporting local businesses.

Banks is a native of Shawnee, Kansas, and Cox grew up in suburban Minneapolis. Both are first-year students in the Scott Scholars program at Hastings College.

Throughout December, Banks and Cox interviewed nearly 30 local business owners through the shop at home local business profiles initiative.

“Growing up in a town as big as Shawnee made it easy to get lost in the crowd,” Banks said. “I’ve spent my whole life there, and I can still walk out of my house and meet 50 new people or walk into a business that I’ve been to multiple times and not have a relationship with the employees. Individualized personal experiences are scarce.”

That isn’t the case in Hastings, Banks said.

“I soon realized what I was missing,” she said. “Getting the opportunity to come to a community like Hastings has been truly beneficial. I’ve gotten to see firsthand what a truly personalized experience is like.”

Cox agreed.

“Through this initiative, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing nearly 30 different business leaders throughout Hastings,” he said. “This has provided insight into the personalized, personable experience that small businesses bring to their communities.”

From Trish Ludemann and Tammy Valentin of Gary Michael’s Clothiers guiding their customers through every step of the clothing selection process to Maggie Esch of Vaughan’s Printing, who is carrying her family business into its third generation, Cox said he has “seen the human side of enterprise.”

“It has changed my perspective,” he said. “Now I consider who my dollars are going to support before making a purchase, deliberately choosing small businesses in order to support them.”

Banks agreed, saying her reporting opened her eyes to just how much is invested by the men and women who run the small businesses in Hastings.

“I’ve heard so many stories and learned so many different things about the local businesses here,” Banks said. “I’ve learned about businesses that have lasted three generations and about owners who finally achieved their dream of owning a business.”

Cox said he was impressed by the camaraderie among business owners in Hastings and with how they build relationships with their customers, which is something you don’t always find in a large city.

“As a Minnesota suburbanite, I’ve grown accustomed to an impersonal shopping experience,” he said. “The local stores around my hometown are primarily national chains whose managers and owners are seldom known to the public. The area I’m from is dominated by big-box stores, so I grew up knowing nothing else, and not realizing what I was missing.”

Underscoring the importance of locally owned businesses, funding and support for these profiles were provided by Pinnacle Bank, the Hastings Business Improvement District, Hastings College and the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation.

The Hastings Tribune will continue the shop at home series for businesses that want to participate.

“Writing these articles has even furthered my joy and appreciation for this close-knit community,” said Banks, who wrote the stories that appeared in the Tribune. “I’m glad to have had this experience. I feel immersed in this community, and I’m excited to spend the next three-and-half-years here while I finish my bachelor’s degree at Hastings College.”

Cox’s role in the initiative was to record his interviews via Zoom and then share those interviews on social media channels.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to meet so many business leaders throughout Hastings,” Cox said. “It’s shown me how micro-enterprises cultivate community, foster friendships and inspire ingenuity.”