On almost any night of the week, Churchill’s Restaurant is hopping. The 10-year-old hot spot in Rockville Centre, Long Island, is packed with locals drinking beer and eating burgers, with some customers spilling over onto the street. “We have lots of regulars—people who are recognized when they come in,” says co-owner Kevin Culhane. In fact, regulars make up more than 80 percent of the restaurant’s customers. “People feel comfortable and safe here,” Culhane says. “This is their place.”
Thriving neighborhood restaurants are one small data point in a larger trend I call the new localism. The basic premise: the longer people stay in their homes and communities, the more they identify with those places, and the greater their commitment to helping local businesses and institutions thrive, even in a downturn. Several factors are driving this process, including an aging population, suburbanization, the Internet, and an increased focus on family life. And even as the recession has begun to yield to recovery, our commitment to our local roots is only going to grow more profound. Evident before the recession, the new localism will shape how we live and work in the coming decades, and may even influence the course of our future politics.