Create Community: Buy Local

Continuing our Create Community series, this week we will look at Buying Local.  If you missed our previous posts in the series, check them out here.

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Campaigns for buying local are fairly familiar to me, and I could easily see how buying local would invest money back into the place where I live.  However, I had never considered that it would further connect me to where I lived.

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Think for a moment about the last time you moved (even if that was just into the dorm in college).  Where did you go to get your towels and laundry detergent?  Did you run to Target or Walmart?  There certainly is the benefit of the comfort level with these stores.  Since many are laid out in the same way, you know exactly where to find the shower curtains and brooms.  Not to mention, when you go this route, it would probably be cheaper than a locally owned store.

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BUT, did you know that for every job at a “bottom price” chain (like Target and Walmart), it eliminates 1.4 jobs locally potentially closing those locally owned stores.  What initially seems like a potential job boom for a town slowly degrades the community’s wages and therefore its overall business success.

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(For example, Warnick cited a study that showed big-box retailers returning 14% of its earnings back to the local economy while the rest was shipped back to the faraway corporate offices.  In contrast, independent businesses can circulate 52% of the revenue locally.  In simpler terms, if you spend $25 at a local boutique, $14 of it will stay where you live.  At a big chain, only $3.50.)

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Warnick stated, “Cities that support local businesses have stronger personalities, and it’s easier to become attached to our city when we know exactly who and what it is.”  Just think about it: what is the allure of that quaint coffee shop in the little resort town?  You like it because it is different than Starbucks.  Why do you love the children’s boutique in the neighborly part of the city?  You love it because the gift you are buying your friend is special and unique and not something she’ll throw in her cart when she’s picking up a prescription.  What is it about the clothing store that you like better than Macy’s?  It brings you back because it is often better quality and the people who sell it to you care whether or not you buy something from them.

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Notice those words I mentioned: different, unique, quality, care, special.  You will pay a bit more for those things, but don’t you want those extras when you make purchases?  I don’t know many people who don’t like to get a great deal when they have the option.  There are reality shows about buying things for free with coupons!  But at what cost?  If we want to keep the quaint, quality stores around, we have to be willing to spend some money there.

Being honest, I am always hunting for the best deal.  I love a good sale and even still use online coupons.  But learning about this has challenged my thinking a bit.  So, I took an afternoon and went to buy a book.  In a bookstore that wasn’t a big chain.  I had to take a bit more time to learn the layout because it was new (and not familiar like another uniformed layout bookstore in town).  They didn’t even have both books I needed.  They found one, ordered the second and happily helped me look for my daughter’s lost shoe.  Though that last bit isn’t in their job description, I appreciated that they were willing to help out a complete stranger and new customer.

If where I buy can have an impact on how I feel about where I live, maybe I should consider my purchases a bit more.  Our culture is saturated with the idea of being efficient and pinching pennies.  However, I don’t want those decisions to ultimately hurt where I have chosen to raise my family.  So, family members, consider yourselves warned: you’ll probably all be getting books for Christmas.

Action Steps

  1.  Find one item you can buy locally and stick to it.  (Need some ideas?  How about books, kids birthday party gifts, housewarming gifts, baby/wedding gifts, Mother’s Day/Father’s Day?  Maybe find one or two stores in your area and try to do all your holiday shopping there.  Bonus: Sometimes they gift wrap for free!)
  2. Visit two local businesses and ask if they have any events (wine and cheese night at the boutique that sells home decor or birthday parties at the local toy shop).  Not only will you meet other locals, you’ll get to know the staff who could help you pick up your next gift.  When they know you better, they’ll help you buy a better gift.  Maybe even something for yourself.
  3. When you visit your next local business, look around and notice the difference between it and its chain counterpart.  If you’re feeling bold, tell the staff what you like or appreciate about their store.  Consider what you would miss if it wasn’t there anymore because it didn’t make enough money to stay.  Would you miss it?  If so, then you should be a patron there!Name three independent stores or restaurants in which you have fond memories.  What is it about these places that you love?  If you worked in or owned a locally owned business, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments!