• Kevin M. Baumlin, MD

Small Business Means Human Connection

Chance meetings can change your life forever. I know this as a practicing Emergency Physician. I have patients I treated once that I’ll never forget, those whose stories and circumstances will stick with me forever. But everyday, fleeting encounters can be life changing too. Conversations with the doughnut maker, the bodega guy, and the local bookseller stick with me.

These conversations and encounters are harder to come by now. COVID precautions we must all take when going about our daily lives make us less likely to stop and chat and there are fewer businesses open due to the pandemic. And changes in our shopping patterns have moved more and more commerce online, even small transactions that used to only occur in a local store.

One of my favorite local businesses, The Penn Book Center, most recently known as People’s Books and Culture, is one of the more than 1,000 Philadelphia businesses now permanently closed due to the pandemic. When the bookstore closed, I lost one of my favorite places to visit in the city. But I also lost the human connection I felt when I shopped there, browsing and chatting with “the book guy.”

I do realize more and more people do the bulk of their shopping online, but in doing so we miss out on all the richness we get from human interactions. Business owners have to be nimble and innovative as they find new ways to survive. Take the new concept of Bookshop.org, which allows shoppers to support local, small businesses while still having the convenience of online shopping. While it is too late for my favorite store, this concept could save local brick and mortar, independent bookstores across the country while we wait for the development of vaccines that will allow us the pleasures of browsing in person once again.

When a local store closes, I miss the store fronts and the window displays, and activity they bring to the street, but most of all, I miss the interaction between customers and staff. Human interaction matters and makes our lives richer.

Independent small businesses bring a community more than commerce, they bring caring, love, and connection. Support your local shops, and let them know how much you care about the people who work and interact with you and your neighbors.

Dr. Kevin Baumlin is Chair of Emergency Medicine at Pennsylvania Hospital, Vice Chair of Emergency Medicine for the Perelman School of Medicine, and co-founder of OAK Street Initiative. He loves browsing in local book shops and supporting small businesses.


For More:

For a recommended fictionalized account of how small encounters can be life-changing, see : A.M. Homes This Book Will Save Your Life (Viking, 2006).



The opinions expressed in this article do not represent those of the University of Pennsylvania Health System or the Perelman School of Medicine. 

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