There are two hardware stores near my house. One is a big name-brand store that has everything I need at lower prices, open seven days a week. The other has inconvenient hours -- they close at noon on Saturdays -- and prices are a little higher. They don't have nearly the same selection either. So you'd think I'd shop at the super-convenient big box store on the new highway. Nope. I've decided it's in my economic self-interest to shop at the local mom and pop store.
Like many Americans, I face similar decisions several times each week, weighing the advantages of local vs. national chain stores. With the global economy in freefall, it’s tempting to vote for the quick savings promised by a national chain, which can make you think you’re doing the right thing for your family. But a closer look shows that the savings gained at Walmart or Sam’s Club might cost more dearly, especially in these hard economic times.
Here are 10 reasons to think local, buy local, and be local, as listed by the American Independent Business Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes sustainable communities through strong local economies.
1. Buying local supports you and your family. When you buy from an independent locally owned business, significantly more of your buying dollar stays in the community and is used to make purchases from other local businesses, like local service providers and local advertisers (such as this newspaper!), which helps strengthen the economic base of your hometown. (Visit www.AMIBA.net to see case studies supporting this claim).
2. When you buy from local businesses, you’re supporting local nonprofits. Studies show that small business owners give an average of 250 percent more dollars in donations to local nonprofits than do large businesses. This should be especially important to any soccer mom with a son or daughter on a team or in Scouts, or someone who enjoys local theater and the arts.
3. Buying local keeps your community unique. Where we shop, where we eat and have fun -- all of it makes our community home. Our one-of-a-kind local businesses give a distinctive character to a place, and add to quality of life; they also bring in more tourist dollars. “When people go on vacation they generally seek out destinations that offer them the sense of being someplace, not just anyplace,” says National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe.
4. Reduce your environmental impact. Locally owned businesses make more local purchases, which means less wasted fossil fuel for deliveries from afar. Also, when you shop in town or city centers, your purchases contribute less to sprawl, congestion, habitat loss, and pollution. You save money too, whenever you can walk instead of driving to buy.
5. Local business creates more good jobs. Small local businesses are the largest employer nationally, and the jobs they offer create stronger links to our communities. After all, where would you rather see a son or daughter work: at a local store where they might get valuable personal employer referrals, or at an impersonal national chain store checkout counter?
6. When you buy local, you invest in community. Local businesses are owned by your neighbors, people who live in your town, who are less likely to leave, and who -- like you -- are more invested in the community’s future. Local businesses provide very important community allies in tough economic times.
7. You get better service locally. Local businesses often hire people with a better understanding of the products they sell, and take more time to get to know customers. If a product causes problems, the local business is more likely to respond to your concerns in a personal way.
8. Buying local puts your taxes to good use. Local businesses, particularly those in town centers, require little public infrastructure investment, as compared to nationally owned chains built at the edge of town with taxpayer money for improved roads, water and sewer service.
9. You can buy what you want, not what someone wants you to buy. A multitude of small businesses, each selecting products based not on a national sales plan but on the needs and requests of local customers, assures a buyer-friendly range of product choices.
10. Buying local encourages local prosperity. A growing body of economic research shows that in an increasingly homogenized world, entrepreneurs and skilled workers are more likely to invest and settle in communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind businesses and distinctive hometown character.
So, whenever possible, I buy local. Yeah, I may pay a little more for that new bathroom fixture at the local hardware, and deal with the occasional frustration of inconvenient hours. But I enjoy running into neighbors there. And nothing beats knowing the owner by name, and getting her tips on how to get a good seal on my pipe fittings. To me, it's worth it.
© 2009 Blue Ridge Press
David Lillard is co-owner of a small town newspaper in West Virginia, and co-editor of Blue Ridge Press.