Remember when a yellow page directory was the only way to find local resources from restaurants to movie theatres, plumbers to airline phone numbers? Even in the 90s, before Google or Yahoo, there were printed directories. I used to work in a bookstore (actual printed books) and one of the most popular books was the Rough Guide to the Internet, which explained how the Internet worked and included a directory of top sites.
It's all online
Times have definitely changed. The Pew Internet report “Where people get information about restaurants and other local businesses” finds that the majority of people find this information online. This is especially true for the young, educated and tech-enabled.
We still rely heavily on word-of-mouth, but with social media it is so much easier to share opinions. Posting photos of a delicious meal or having a status extolling (or excoriating) a local contractor will spread your opinions much more broadly than simple chats with friends one on one. You can even go to Twitter or Facebook to specifically ask for opinions, which is much more efficient than asking your friends in person or on the phone.
We have Yelp to find restaurant reviews, local search on Bing, Angie’s List for trusted contractors and even just a basic search in Google to inform us. As we grow more accustomed to these online review sites, we also become more demanding. We want more local restaurant reviews in our own neighborhoods, more recommendations on good hardware stores and no longer want to wade through innumerable reviews of local auto repair shops when we are looking for a reliable mechanic.
Another good source
Your Patch site can be the source of reliable reviews from truly local sources. If you have a go-to pizza place or salon, share it with others. The more you share, and the more your neighbors share, the more useful the directories become. And businesses can also add their information so that it is easier for new customers to find them, which is yet another way that things have improved from the days of having to wait until the new phone books arrive.