Becky McCray, our friend and small town business expert (and regular contributor) is already seeing a trend emerge in 2016: Diversification.

Last fall, while organizing for Small Business Saturday, I visited lots of local businesses, many of which I hadn’t been in for a long while. In every store, I found something I didn’t realize they carried. Every single store.

I knew my favorite women’s shop had kid’s clothes — but I was surprised to see they had a new line of watches and plush stuffed animals. The sewing center has started carrying adult coloring books. The kitchen shop has kids’ books and scientific toys.

The T-shirt shop has added leggings, hats and gloves. The “up-cycled” furniture store has added kitchen collectibles — vintage glass and utensils that are still useable. The shoe store has Underarmour hoodies. (Finally, my 22 year-old nephew is excited to shop local.)

The furniture and decor place has sunglasses and runners’ running gear. The cosmetics place is now carrying artistic silver jewelry that is made my the owner’s husband.

My point: Retailers in small towns are branching out.

That’s not without precedent in small and rural stores — we originated the “general store.” Our stores have a smaller customer base to draw from so we have to look for more items to sell. Also, in towns with fewer stores, there’s always the opportunity to be “the only store in town” to carry something new.

A visit to a small retailer in a small town will reveal a subtle shift to diversification by merchants who aren’t being limited in their vision of what can also be sold in a store that may say on its sign that it sells furniture…but wouldn’t that spot over there be just perfect for a line of soaps and shampoos?

(An earlier version of this post appeared on

(Daphne Howe via Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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