Visit Small Towns To Uncover Retail Gems

Look in any retail design trade publication and you’re presented with glamorous photographs of exotic retail locations sprinkled across the world’s largest metro areas. From big chains to small boutiques, seemingly if you want to see where it’s at in terms of retail design you’d better head downtown, or hop on a plane.

A recent vacation reminded me that you don’t have to travel to the big city to experience the best of retail. We spent our mid-summer family holiday in the town of Ellicottville in western New York state. It’s an international ski town that I’ve personally visited for the better part of thirty years; watching it adapt, evolve and grow. Despite the focus on winter, when the town is flooded by winter sport lovers from across the region (and Canada), it has grown into a vibrant summer scene also. And any time we’re in town we make a point of visiting the stores that line its main streets.

The village (part of the town by the same name) is very quaint and devoid of national chains. It’s a paradise for viewing independent retail up close and personal. Stores have come and gone through the years but vacancy isn’t too high right now so it is a great time to visit. There are several new stores to supplement the old standbys.

I took the time to visit most of the stores, and even talked to a few of the merchants to learn more about their awesome retail spaces. I suspect many of them are designing the stores themselves, and exciting those designs by the sweat of their own brow (one merchant said as much). Whether they do the work themselves, or hire someone (hint, hint) the key is knowing their brand and having that communicated in every way. Most of the stores we visited did this exceedingly well. As a retail designer I didn’t see much I would have done differently, and many things that I found beyond delight as a designer, and shopper.

Walking through the stores reminded me of how much I love shopping and retail environments. It made for a fun morning. An experience that can’t be replicated online. Nor is it easily translatable to mass retail.

So before you book your design team trip to New York City, San Francisco, London or wherever it is you go, consider driving through the countryside closer to home. There are a lot of great independent retailers creating really awesome retail experiences right in front of us.

Where are your favorite hole in the wall retail design haunts? Share in the comments below after enjoying the photos of Ellicottville.


-Chris Weigand

President, Chris Weigand Design, LLC

Chris Weigand Design is a full service professional retail design and branding consultancy. We work with companies of all sizes to design compelling design solutions that connect with customers. We love shopping, we love going out to stores and seeing what merchants are doing. We enjoy creating really awesome solutions for our clients. Contact us today at 330.858.8926 to find out how we can make your store a place that people love to shop.

5 thoughts on “Visit Small Towns To Uncover Retail Gems

  1. I love reading your posts. You really have a distinct eye for the retail space and how to make it a comforting, welcoming and enjoyable environment. Ellicottville looks like a place I would enjoy. Highland, NC, though smaller, has a similar charm and we used to visit quite regularly to shop and enjoy its environs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When it comes to independent retail it’s amazing how wide the spectrum is from merchants that really embrace retail experience, to those that struggle with it. Likely there’s a third group that creates their own quirky inviting retail experience through pure chance and the old adage: “form follows function”. Regardless, it’s fun exploring these small town shops for inspiration, cool products and memories.

      As an aside, you’ll notice many of these independent retailers already do an awesome job (or they hired some great designers to help) with their stores. Which means there’s not a whole hell of a lot a retail design consultancy can do for them. So there are challenges from a business standpoint. I’ll leave that examination and discussion for another day though.

      One last thing I will add, small towns that struggle with their identity and economic development can learn from places like Ellicottville which has presumably struggled and flourished through the last thirty years evolving and surviving through varied economic times. Every town, and as a subset its retailers, posses unique challenges and opportunities. Retailers need to think holistically and collaborate for the greater good of everyone.

      As I always say, it’s an exciting time to be alive and in the retail design business.


  2. I personally am an secondhand furniture pieces hunter, rather than clothes so I might mention that. It is true the small towns have amazing treasures to offer, since the turnover of the furniture does not have to be so fast as in large cities. However, if you know the best places where to go vintage pieces hunting also in larger cities, score! Coming from Toronto I know what I am talking about, I have found some secret destinations that have not managed to become so mainstream yet. Always a treat to find. Than it is really easy to, for instance, give them a nice makeover they need in order to breath new life in them, such as in here Reusing Old Furniture. Small cities, though, are a perfect source for relax and inspiration!
    Thanks for the post!


    • From a consumer standpoint it’s true, it is nice to find secret places that aren’t so mainstream yet. Thanks for the link about “reusing old furniture”. And thanks for visiting our blog.


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