Walking is my favorite way to get acclimated to a new city. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours over the past week strolling through narrow cobblestone alleys, ancient walled cities, and bustling piazzas throughout Rome, Tuscany, and Dubrovnik.

In each of these different places, I keep coming back to two primary observations:

  1. There are a TON of mom and pop stores and restaurants. Everywhere you turn is a tiny, adorable, and often family-owned spot.
  2. I only recall a handful of vacant storefronts. It’s such a stark contrast to back home where skyrocketing rents lead to frequent turnover and force many businesses to close their doors. On my last trip to NYC, I explored my old neighborhood on the Upper West Side and it truly felt like a ghost town — block after block of For Lease signs. I left feeling both nostalgic, sad, and angry.

Perhaps it’s my business mindset and innate curiosity that I can never fully shut off, but I can’t help but wonder how all these places afford to continually keep the lights on. Do they lie awake at night concerned about the same things that my clients and I think about? Are they profitable? Are they happy? Is it a drug front? (I have seriously considered this possibility on more than one occasion).

Every first Sunday of the month, the small town of Arezzo, Tuscany, hosts an outdoor antique market, with tents lining both sides of their curving, cobblestone streets. Most vendors had a large spread of goods, which I know takes hours to haul there, set-up, sell, and tear down at the end of the day. It’s exhausting, back-breaking work. I can’t imagine many sellers broke even that day, especially when they factor in their time. How do they determine the success of a show? What other avenues are they pursuing to sell their goods? My mind was racing a million miles a minute. Before I spun myself into a tizzy empathizing with these small business owners, I needed to remind myself to be present, enjoy my surroundings, and shop local when I can.

Whether it’s a full-time job or a side hustle like my Airbnb hosts, it feels like everyone’s an entrepreneur here. Plus, on the marketing front, they have the added element of catering to multiple languages (more on that in my next post).