By: William Powers
In this Jan. 21, 2012 photo, as Steve Shutts, left, and Rob Schwind tally the day's receipts, family members celebrate the final sale at the Chagrin Hardware in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Hundreds of supporters of the family-owned business flocked to the store all day long, spending money in a veritable "Cash Mob" in support of the business. (Amy Sancetta/AP)
Has the Washington fiscal chaos been driving you nuts? Anxious about our still sluggish economy? There’s a constructive step you can take right now.
Think of something you need and go buy it at a local store.
By “local,” I mean any business that you can easily get to by walking, driving or via public transportation; and is independently owned by people from the area. National firms, whether brick-and-mortar or online, don’t qualify.
The point is to go in person to a locally owned store and spend money. It doesn’t have to be a lot. If your budget is tight, make it a basic item you would have bought anyway. In short, reallocate some of your usual spending to small indie businesses near you.
Why is this a good idea right now? Because as we become global consumers, shopping at chain stores and online, it’s easy to forget how crucial small, independent businesses are to our collective well-being.
In fact, small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, accounting for about half of all private-sector jobs, and 65 percent of new jobs created in the past 17 years.
These figures come from the Small Business Administration, based on its definition of a small business as one employing fewer than 500 people. Local economies often depend on businesses at the low end of that scale, many employing just a few people.
For a real economic recovery to take off nationally, it must happen among the millions of small enterprises in our cities and towns. Running these businesses isn’t easy. Larger companies enjoy all kinds of competitive advantages, and online shopping has cut deeply into local economies.
It’s time to make buying local a conscious part of our routines, just like physical exercise — something you do because of the many benefits it brings.
Still need convincing? Addicted to the efficiency of buying online? Shopping at small, local stores is a lot smarter than you think:
1. It Gives You Control. The fiscal cliff drama is a reminder that many aspects of our economic lives are out of our hands, controlled by distant people pursuing agendas that aren’t necessarily in line with our own. The rise of big-box stores and giant retail websites is more of the same. Where did that meat come from? Why are ads for the shoes I was checking out yesterday following me everywhere I go online? Buying local is partly about taking back control. You’re dealing with real people who understand what they’re selling and, in most cases, will stand by it.
2. Local Spending Circles Back to You. The money you spend at national chains and big online stores enriches distant organizations and their stockholders. Local independents are more likely to keep their profits circulating in the local economy, a multiplier effect that directly benefits you and your neighbors. Small retailers and service providers support their communities in countless other ways, too, from sponsoring youth sports teams to supporting local charitable organizations.
3. Make It a Percentage. For most of us, buying everything local isn’t practical. Instead, designate a percentage of your spending for this purpose. The 10% Shift movement, which started in New England several years ago, suggests households shift 10 percent of their total spending from non-local businesses to local independents. For instance, if you normally spend $300 a week on groceries, set aside $30 of that for shopping at a local bakery, farm stand or family-owned market. If you’re currently ordering 20 hardcopy books a year from Amazon, resolve to buy at least two at an independent bookstore.
4. Price It Out. Buying local doesn’t have to cost more. Local businesses work hard to keep their prices competitive. With online purchases, shipping often cancels out any discount. Comparison shop and you’ll be surprised at the bargains awaiting you down the street.
5. Get Happy. Shopping at local stores, where the person serving you is frequently the owner, is a terrific antidote to our impersonal, screen-driven work lives. There are several stores in my town that I create excuses to visit, just because I like being there. I’ll inevitably spend a few bucks, a small price to pay for a warm smile and chat, and the emotional boost I take away.
6. Build a Better World. If efficiency and cost are all that matter, then big-box stores and online behemoths should rule the world. But is that the world we want? Are we just pure consumers or are we something more? One of the fundamental tenets of modern capitalism is that free markets build better communities. For that to happen, small local enterprises must remain vital. Embrace the idea that business can be a force for good, and shop accordingly.
Why leave it to the politicians to save the economy when, in the long run, we can do so much ourselves? When you buy local, you’re shaping a brighter future for your community, your family and yourself. That’s an economic plan worth supporting.