The big caveat on this is that I would exclude retail shops, because of the limited available of low-priced inventory, you are likely not to see very many clothing or home goods shops that are local unless they are resale stores. What you should see are locally named secondhand stores, coffee shops, accountant firms, physicians, and bars and restaurants.
I personally like Starbucks, but it feels a lot better to hear about people I know who run with the owner of the local coffee shop. It definitely has a more personal feel to it, and the coffee is just as good, if not better.
Other things to look for to see whether your community is really a community or not include:
- Local events. These can be hard to find if you aren't already immersed in the community. Look for Facebook groups, town websites, and check at the local library or community center. If possible, attend an event before making a decision to move to a new area. For instance, our town has at least one event each season (Easter Egg Hunt, 4th of July Celebration, Trick or Treat on the Trails, Firemen's Day, and dozens of smaller events throughout the year).
- Community centers, parks, and libraries. Check out the local community center, park, or library to see what ongoing classes or events are offered. The more frequent events going on, the more likely you are to find something that will get you involved with others. Attend a few events before moving to a new area. If there is no community center or other facility nearby, it will be much harder to find community.
- Area name. If you are in a community that doesn't have it's own name, you are much less likely to find community. There won't be that sense of belonging. It's fine if you live on the outskirts of a named area, but if you are in a large geographical area with no community name, there is going to automatically be much less camaraderie among people. For example, when we lived in Louisville, we technically lived outside the county, but inside city lines, so we could say that we lived in a certain section of Louisville, but we didn't really, plus our neighborhood did not fit in with the other neighborhoods in that area of Louisville. So, if your area of town is called NoDa or the Highlands, or something similar, or you live in a smaller town that people can easily identify by it's name, you have a much greater chance of finding community.
Finally, you can't find community without going out. As part of our homeschool, we try to attend at least one "field trip" every week. Some weeks, we end up getting a little too busy. In the next few days we will be attending a fundraiser for the new YMCA (to be built less than a mile from our house). going to a local corn maze with our church, attending a race to raise funds for autism (my husband is racing), going to a hockey game, and attending a group event at a relatively local park. And I may be going to the Food Truck Rodeo with some friends too, if we have time. These aren't just events in our smaller town, but we're attending because of relationships and community that we've built in just the few short months since we moved here. So, if you feel like you don't have community, try to forge some relationships. You can't have community if you never commune with other people.