Why shop local? It’s not because I think I’m doing my local stores a big favor. It’s just the opposite — it’s about what these local businesses provide us as a community. (But, it’s also where I find all the best stuff!)
I’ve always had this thing for shop local. I get really excited by what I might discover in little independent stores. I’ve been a self-professed lover of local since before I even knew there was a name for it. Then I discovered there were labels for people like me…localist, locavore. Were they a bit silly? I didn’t care. I felt validated. I bought the t-shirt.
I used to shop locally purely for enjoyment, leisurely browsing our city’s little stores for unusual finds. I still love my local stores, but these days I shop them differently. With two kids in tow, I need to get in and out quickly…before the 4-year old breaks something, or the 1-year-old leaves a sticky trail of residue behind. Small business owners seem to recognize my predicament, and give us the attentive and personalized customer service a busy mom needs. (Or maybe they, too, realize it’s better for all if it’s a quick transaction?)
But, it’s not just about being fawned over by a conscientious shop owner. (Although, I do sorta love that.)
Buying local is also a conscious decision to support my community businesses because I really can’t imagine our lives without them.
But, I admit — I don’t shop local all of the time. Nothing is ever all black or all white, is it? Still, I try to choose local first whenever I can. And, here’s why…
Why Shop Local Anyway?
There are countless online sources that can give you the facts about why shopping locally is so important for our communities and our local economies, so I won’t go there. (But, you can read up on shop local statistics here or here or even here.) For me this next little story illustrates those statistics so much better.
Recently I congratulated a neighborhood shop owner on the opening of his second store. He confessed he was lucky to get the new retail space for a song. And, then he shared that, despite steady sales, he wasn’t really making a profit. “This is definitely a labor of love,” he said. “If I had a family, I couldn’t afford to stay open.”
He then told me about another business I knew that had recently closed despite a regular stream of customers. “Without his wife’s job, they couldn’t have stayed open as long as they did. He finally closed up shop when he got a job offer he couldn’t pass up.”
These admissions stopped me in my tracks and quickly dissolved any romantic notions I had about owning my own little shop: Is owning a local retail business only for those without dependents? Or those who are dependent themselves?
Yes, you can argue that’s business. You can tell me things have changed, and perhaps the small businesses just can’t keep up with the online businesses. And, that all may be true. Yet this is also true: Online businesses are simply selling us a product. Once you click the submit payment button, the relationship ends. But, our small local businesses give us so much more than just the books or clothes or coffee they sell us — they give us experiences that help shape our lives. As a community, we need these local businesses.
Local Businesses Are Worth Much More Than What They Sell
I think about my favorite local shops and the experiences we would miss if they closed their doors: Where would I take my kids for story time if that bookstore closed? Where would we go for an ice cream treat after a fun afternoon playing in the park? Where would I catch up on work if that coffee shop was gone?
Because these local businesses don’t just sell us things — they provide us with gathering places and sense of community.
When you shop local, you’re not just paying for the item you bring home. You’re also paying for an experience. And, that experience doesn’t end once you leave the shop.
Our community businesses create a vibrant, lively atmosphere that we enjoy regularly — and it’s not something we always pay for. Yes, we eat at our neighborhood restaurants, drink at our neighborhood bars, hang out at our neighborhood coffee shops, and buy from our neighborhood retailers. But, we also go to free events sponsored by the community businesses…monthly art walks and seasonal celebrations.
And, I know it’s not just my neighborhood. For every neighborhood where local businesses and neighbors co-exist, you’ll find this symbiotic relationship.
Shifting Our Shopping Habits: Small Changes Make a Difference
Sometimes I feel a little sheepish if I run into someone in a big-box store, especially if they know my stance on shopping locally. But, I can’t always find what I need at the neighborhood shops. And, I have to tell myself that’s okay. I shop local as often as I can, and every bit matters.
But, it’s not just a rationalization…there’s data to back me up! A movement became popular a few years back called the 3/50 Project. You pick three local businesses you’d miss if they were no longer around, and spend at least $50 in those shops every month. That’s less than $17 per store, which seems pretty reasonable.
We’re not talking about $50 in additional purchases, either — just what you are already consuming each month. You could easily spend that at your hardware store, your bookstore, and your corner grocer.
Here’s the kicker: If only half the working population did this each month, it would generate more than $40 billion in revenue. And, because that revenue is locally spent dollars, it is four times as likely to stay in the community and be spent at other businesses.
Okay, I confess that I haven’t personally worked out the math on the $40 billion. (I mean, who am I kidding? I was an English major.) But the concept is intriguing: Can spending just $50 a month keep alive the amazing businesses that enliven our neighborhoods and add so much to our lives? I sure hope so.
So, I try to support our local businesses whenever I can — even if it’s not 100 percent of the time. And, yes, sometimes I pay more than I would at the big-box or online stores. But, I happily pay that. I think of it as an investment in our community…because what we get back in return is worth so much more.
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