How to find a special restaurant or small business near you
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The last few months have seen people traveling less and spending a lot more time at home. Many businesses closed, some permanently because they couldn’t withstand the economic strain of consumers not being able to shop in person. As the nation begins to reopen, small businesses are still struggling.
Since most of us are on a semi-permanent staycation or taking trips to nearby locations, now is a good time to shop local. As someone who lives in a city, sometimes it can be difficult to find small or local businesses to explore. Major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington D.C. are cluttered with tourist hot spots and five-star restaurants that don’t match the experience I’m seeking out. Sometimes, a quiet bookstore that serves a killer iced coffee is all I want.
The following tips can help if you’re looking for some new-to-you small businesses to support.
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Consult newspapers and blogs
Newspapers may feel like “a thing of the past” but local papers still have a lot of value. If you want to try a great new restaurant, read the food section for ideas. The New York Times food section is my favorite place to check when looking for a place to eat in New York. The Charleston City Paper (Charleston, North Carolina), Washington City Paper (Washington, D.C.) and Gambit Weekly (New Orleans) are some popular city-based papers around the nation.
Local blogs publish the same type of content and can expose you to new restaurants and shops. Search your city plus terms like “food,” “dining,” “restaurant reviews,” “local business” and “blog” to find sites that are writing about the restaurants and stores near you.
Use an app
Yelp has become a go-to for people who want to know what they’re getting before committing to a restaurant for the night. It’s a great tool with a lot of benefits but it often recommends the same few restaurants that are popular in the area. Zomato (formerly UrbanSpoon) and Eater are some alternatives that provide wider options. Eater has a regional page for most major cities and each city has a subcategory that lets you search by neighborhood.
If you’re really looking for an authentic experience, why not ask the people who reside there? If you don’t want to just stop someone on the street, the bartenders or waiters in your area are great resources. They are personable and likely to know a good hole in the wall that you would never find on your own. I found my favorite cafe and getaway, Sankofa Cafe, by asking D.C natives where they go.
Looking for a fresher alternative? Many towns have weekly farmers markets that bring out local businesses and eateries. I’ve found cherished jars of jam, perfectly crafted pies and even one of the best messy burgers I’ve ever had. Vendors aren’t even always food-related. Some sell crafts, services and everyday products.
Take a tour
Large cities, countrysides and even small towns have food and wine tours you can book and there’s really one for everyone. TPG staffers have some great U.S. based recommendations but, as is the new normal, make sure you check hours of operation and social distancing requirements, before heading out.
“Charleston Culinary Tours were outstanding on our last trip there,” says editor Nick Ewen. “We wound up doing two tours with them, including the farm-to-table one (where we picked ingredients at the farmers market, gave them to a local chef and he created a multicourse meal out of them).”
Related: Family-friendly wineries on the East Coast
Credit Cards editor, Benet Wilson, recommends The Kentucky Bourbon Trail if you’re out in the Midwest. The site says to plan for about a week if you want to experience each of the 18 distilleries on the trail. Each tour lasts about an hour and most people do three tours a day.
Check your social media feeds
Social media can also be your friend when looking for a new place to eat. Facebook groups are my go-to when searching for an off the radar bite in a new town. You can get honest reviews from people in the area and ask any questions you have. Facebook is also a good way to find local events, pop up shops or openings in the area.
Other platforms, such as Instagram, have gotten me to go to a restaurant more than once after seeing a drool-worthy photo on their page. The explore page’s food tab is a foodies dream, filled with amazing eats around the world. Instagram’s shop feature is my go-to when looking for unique items that others won’t have. A few clicks and you’re cart is on its way.
Check the Amex Map
Amex introduced an interactive map to locate all of the small businesses that accept American Express. Simply enter a location and get a list of all the businesses in the area. Currently, Amex cardholders are eligible to receive up to $50 in statement credits when shopping at a small business. The deadline to enroll was recently extended to August 23.
Well-known and chain businesses are always useful because you know you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for. However, the beauty of small businesses is that you can discover an unexpected gem. Though it can take a little more work to locate a really special small business to support, we hope these resources give you a push in the right direction.
Featured image by Thomas Barwick/ Getty Images
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