Combining her passions for promoting small business and telling important stories, Hastings College sophomore Allison Banks has spent the last two years writing articles for the Hastings Tribune to promote businesses in Hastings. Banks, who is also part of the Scott Scholars Program at Hastings College, began the project with the help of Dave Rippe, director of the program, and Dr. Corey Stutte, the mayor of Hastings.
The project began during the 2020 holiday season, with the goal being to write feature articles on multiple small businesses to increase publicity just as community members began their holiday shopping. The articles would run with a photograph in the Tribune, and also be included on the newspaper’s website, daily news emails and social media.
The project was such a success among local businesses that Banks had no doubts that she’d continue it again in 2021.
“In January 2021, Dave texted me and told me that every business I featured experienced a boost in sales, and that means additional revenue for the business and also an increase in sales taxes, which is good for the city. So when they contacted me about continuing the project this year, I knew I wanted to do it,” said Banks, who is majoring in English.
The most rewarding part of the project for Banks is getting to see the positive impacts the articles have on the small businesses she features, and the business owners she has come to know on a personal level.
“I love getting to write about businesses and then also seeing how happy the business owners were with the boost in customers,” Banks said. “I remember Chelsey (Morten), who runs Lemon & Co. Juicery, got in touch with me and told me, ‘Just so you know I saw so many new faces in my business today. And I just want to say thank you.’
Banks said getting to be able to tell other people’s stories is exciting, and then seeing the success that those businesses get on the other end “is really cool.”
A Kansas City native, Banks has also seen her perception of Hastings and small town living in general change throughout the project. Banks said she’s become an advocate for involving yourself in the local community to see all that Hastings has to offer.
“Through all of these interviews, it’s been so interesting to learn just how much there is available in a small town, that even the local people aren’t even always aware of. At least six businesses from last year told me they would get all kinds of people coming into their store who had lived here for a while saying they didn’t even know that this business existed,” she said. “So I think the articles are really important for exposure and then just fostering that sense of community.”
For the 2021 holiday shopping season, the project expanded past Banks’ articles and involved other members of the Scott Scholars program using their skills to promote small businesses. Sophomore Mady Ludwig has taken on most of the business interviews, while sophomores Kenzie Whitlow and Mickayla VanNatter began assisting businesses with social media and graphic design.
“I think these partnerships are really valuable because for some of the small businesses, social media is more of a challenge, as is creating professional looking pieces with some graphic design. We noticed that, and so we just decided to provide a little bit more for some businesses this year,” Banks said.
This also benefits the Hastings College students by providing more real world experience. Though she is not sure if journalism is a career path she will pursue long term, just having the opportunity to work with business people in a professional setting is an opportunity that Banks said believes has benefitted her and the other students.
“Professionally, I have learned a lot about deadlines, especially for writing. Having to meet those last year was a challenge. We were writing every single day, so I had to complete a new story every day, which was a lot,” Banks said. “This year, it was a little bit more flexible. Time management was definitely an important skill to learn, and I know that will help me move forward in whatever career path I choose to take.”
Though Banks isn’t sure if the project will continue or evolve later this year, she remains passionate about the project’s purpose and open to ideas. Ultimately she said she wants the project to continue showing how much these small businesses owners care about the people they are serving and encouraging others to shop small.
“Something that comes up in every interview is that these people really care about the Hastings community. The reason why they keep their business going is because they care about the people they’re servicing,” she said. “They’re not just here to make money, but because they can provide something for the community. And I think that giving back to those people who care by shopping locally is really important because small businesses are the backbone of any small town.”
By Landry Hinkson, a sophomore majoring in Communication Studies from Bazaar, Kansas.