“You’re going to buy your groceries from the local store.” That statement was part of my orientation to my first teaching job. It was clear this wasn’t a request. The superintendent in this small town knew it was important to buy local. At the time, the local economy relied on farming, the local cooperative and the grocery store. Living in that community, I learned an important lesson in economics.
As an educator, my career has always relied on the local economy. When Main Street businesses are strong, so are the tax revenues that make our schools great. Those tax dollars also maintain the quality of roads, pay the first-responders, and provide safe places for families to play. Those small businesses also ensure that my community remains livable which maintains the value in my home. In short, my life is better when local small businesses are doing better.
Recently I’ve noticed more sales at the small shops that I frequent. This makes me nervous. It tells me that they need some quick capital to keep their business going strong. I’m sure they are competing with larger retail outlets and online shopping. As consumers, we need to recognize that there’s more at stake than a cheaper product.
According to a Grand Rapids Michigan Civics Economic study, for every $100 you spend locally, 68 percent remains in your community through taxes, wages, local suppliers and donations. Spend $100 at a national chain, and your community reaps 43 percent local benefit. Click the buy button on your computer and almost nothing benefits our local area.
There are a myriad of intangible benefits from shopping locally. Small businesses frequently offer classes to show customers how to use the products they sell. It’s a great place to meet other people with similar interests.
My experiences with small businesses have shown me the benefit of exceptional personal service. Local owners are more likely to stock products you request. They have the expertise to maximize the value of purchases. Since I sew, I’m a member of numerous online groups and read everyday about the horror stories of expensive machines bought online and the owners left without service and support. My local shop takes wonderful care of me and has saved me hours of frustration.
Another area where it’s easy to buy local is food. During the growing season the local farmer’s markets provide a diverse array of fresh foods that taste great and are very affordable. The local food coop is another source. This direct from producer approach decreases the need for fossil fuels to bring products to market and also keeps the land surrounding our community healthy and productive.
I’m not a purist. I shop at small businesses, at big-box stores and even online. I do try to make sure that most of my dollars stay local. It’s one way I can support the people who support my community. It’s good for them and it’s good for me. Plus, the superintendent told me to.
This column was submitted for consideration in The Forum's search for "the next great columnist."