International audience The purpose of this paper is to understand why people shop at small retailers in their community. The authors investigate the influence of consumers’ civic commitment, measured at behavioural and perceptual levels, on small-retailer patronage (SRP). Design/methodology/approach: Data from 984 respondents represent four French cities that host common town-centre shopping streets and large out-of-town retail parks. A structural equation model applied to the theoretical framework tests the relationships between civic behavioural commitment (CBC), civic perceptual commitment (CPC) and declared SRP. Findings: The more an individual consumer exhibits civic behavioural commitment (CBC) to his/her community, the greater his/her small-retailer patronage (SRP). Furthermore, consumers who express strong civic perceptual commitment (CPC) prefer to patronise small retailers. Results show that CPC has a stronger impact on SRP than CBC does. Practical implications: If the CPC has stronger effects on SRP than CBC does, town managers can catch people’s attention by communicating civic commitment to enhance CPC. Solidarity could be developed through large-scale social projects to send a strong signal to consumers regarding retailers’ commitment in the community. Finally, the study highlights the role businesses, retailers and consumers play in building communities. Partnerships across all local stakeholders should be built. Originality/value: This paper is the first to define civic behavioural commitment within consumers’ life place based on social capital theory. Moreover, it offers a new framework for understanding perception of commitment within a community, and its impact on SRP. This measurement scale allows more efficient capturing of civic commitment to communities.