Here’s a great idea we learned about on the internet last week: In Kalamazoo, Mich., a few small businesses teamed up to do something pubs and bars have done for years: Sponsor a “crawl” that encourages customers to walk from store-to-store and stop in each to browse, test products, perhaps enjoy some adult beverages, and in the process, discover there are small retailers who aren’t big boxes out on the by-pass. Oh, and most importantly, to BUY SOMETHING!

While we ran across the Kalamazoo “Small Business Crawl” through a story on the website of a local TV station, it turns out such crawls are being sponsored by a trade association in Washington D.C. comprised of large internet-based companies (many of whom provide services used by small businesses) called the The Internet Association.

The Small Business Crawl concept appears to be tied closely to the association’s lobbying activities, as the press releases sent out by the association seem to focus on members of congress invited to participate. While that’s a great idea (we’re all for communicating to lawmakers the importance of local businesses), there’s no reason to wait for a trade association to show up to put together a “crawl” in your town.

Indeed, there are many examples of various kinds of small business participating in “crawls” taking place all over the U.S. Here are some crawl-like events that may not be called “small business crawls,” but are, nevertheless, great models of using the crawl concept for cooperative marketing efforts.

Art Crawls


(Nashville First Saturday Art Crawl, Photo by Randal Cooper via Flickr.)

In Nashville, on the first Saturday evening of each month, dozens of small galleries and shops open for “an art crawl” that draws over 1,000 people to a downtown block the city has renamed, “Avenue of the Arts,” due, in part, to the popularity of the “First Saturday Art Crawl.”

Cupcake Crawls

A delicious-sounding tour business in Boston called Boston Chocolate Tours conducts a 2 1/2 hour walking tour each Saturday morning called, “The Great Boston Cupcake Crawl.” And while it’s not an official crawl, this suggested New York City cupcake crawl on Trip Advisor sounds like an event the shop owners need to create.

Lit (literature) Crawls

According to the New York Times, these are “like pub crawls, but with authors.” Lit Tours have made their way from San Francisco, where they began in 2004, into literary strongholds across the United States. Describing the Lit Tour in New York, the Times portrays crawls as free events in which readers get their literary fix in bars, art galleries and the occasional pizzeria or laundromat.

Dish Crawls

For towns with areas that have neighborhoods or areas with several restaurants, a progressive meal idea is catching on with the name, “Dish Crawls.” Sometimes tied into a fundraising event, a one-price ticket allows patrons to sample dishes at restaurants and to stroll around the area. There’s even an online company that helps organize Dish Crawls.

(Featured photo: Lit Crawl at Muddy Waters Coffee House in San Francisco. Photo: Ariel Dovas via Flickr)
Do you know of other “small business crawls”? Use the comments below to share what you’ve learned from attending or participating in one.

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