We’ve all read the “best of” lists and the accolades and recommendations that put Portland on the map for the rest of the country. But have we ever stopped and thought about exactly why Portland is such a beloved destination and place to live? Or, to put it more broadly, what makes any of us like any particular city?

The answer lies in the independent businesses. Think about the last city you enjoyed visiting. What made that place stand out for you? What made it interesting? What made it better than Anytown, USA? Chances are, somewhere in your answer would be the local, independent businesses.

In Portland, we are blessed with so many local businesses. We have clothing and card stores, bead stores and bike stores, galleries and film studios. We buck the trend and have not one, but multiple video, record and comic book shops. We have a surf shop, a watch shop and a TV shop.

Everyone knows about our restaurants, coffee roasters and breweries, but we also have three distilleries, a soda bar and a fermentory. These businesses are what make Portland so special. They are why we love living here and why people love coming here.

Our cobblestone streets and old brick buildings are quaint, but the vibrant businesses hanging flags or featuring specials on chalkboard signs out front are what truly identify Portland. It’s a downtown with diverse local shops that people actually visit. If just one or two large businesses owned all of that block, the view would be very different.

But Portland’s small businesses do more than just make for pretty pictures. Local businesses provide legal counsel and landscaping, accounting and graphic design, fitness resources and technology. Local businesses take risks on locations that have scared national brands away.

Consider East Bayside. What was once considered a somewhat dangerous industrial dead zone is now booming with businesses offering pies, upholstery, jewelry, bikes, beer and even environmentally friendly dry cleaning.

The area now hosts block parties and events on a regular basis, is a hub for some of the city’s best food trucks and has become an incubator for new, exciting businesses. The real estate around this area has become more attractive, and those businesses help each other and collaborate whenever they can.

Consider now the owners of Portland’s local businesses. They are risk takers. They are optimists. They are truly committed to the well-being of Portland. While they vary drastically in age, background and interests, each new business owner in the city brings a new level of energy to Portland, a new commitment to this community.

These business owners are also our neighbors, our family members, the parents of our kids’ friends, the kids of our parents’ friends. They volunteer for and donate to local organizations. They eat at our local restaurants and support other local businesses. They care deeply about the future of Portland and are truly invested in our city.

If we were given the opportunity to create our version of the perfect Portland 10 or 20 years from now, what would we want that vision to include?

My vision would be a city that continues to grow by harnessing the energy of local businesses. One where Portland retains all that makes it unique. Where telling someone you’re from Portland still evokes an excited recap of all the great local businesses and restaurants he or she visited while there.

Where those of us who live here revel in the wealth of options we have for retail, food, services and creativity. My vision is of a Portland that doesn’t ever become Anytown, USA.

This summer season, as tourists flock to Portland, let’s celebrate the independent businesses that give our city our identity. We have great reason to celebrate – our friends and neighbors personify the spirit of entrepreneurship and individuality in our community.

Let’s make an effort to go visit these businesses and learn about what they offer. Let’s look locally for service providers. Next time we need to buy something, let’s make a concerted effort to buy that item or service from a local business. Let’s take a walk in our neighborhoods and stop in local shops.

Let’s take a look on area calendars and check out some local music, films and entertainment. Let’s choose to check out a local restaurant we’ve never tried before.

Let’s celebrate what attracts our visitors and be sure to offer our support so those visitors keep coming. Let’s choose independents for ourselves and our family. And for Portland.

— Special to the Press Herald