Students in the small town of Howard, South Dakota noticed that their community was about to disappear. The population was just 3,000 already, and most of their graduating friends left for college to never return. The town was run down, but there just weren’t tax dollars to fix roads and sidewalks. That’s when the students realized that if members of the community spent just 10 percent more of their disposable income at local businesses, they would bring in more than $7 million in tax revenue—enough for a new start for the struggling town. By shopping local, Howard citizens were able to save their community.
Shopping local is a little thing you can do that makes a big difference to your community and your own quality of life. When you patronize local businesses you
- Support your community. Local businesses reinvest more than twice as much money back into the local economy compared to national chains. They’re more likely to give workers quality jobs. And more of their tax revenue goes toward local projects like roads and schools.
- Get good customer service. Big-box stores usually don’t have much of an incentive to treat you right. You’re just one of thousands of customers to a big corporation. Local business owners are more likely to work hard to earn your loyalty.
- Protect the environment. In many cases, shopping local means reducing the pollution from travel or shipping. Businesses that are invested in a community also have more of a reason to protect the local environment.
- Make new friends. Local business-owners like to get to know their customers. When you patronize the same small businesses, you’re more likely to develop a friendship with the employees or other customers. Knowing more people in your community will make you feel more like a part of something bigger than yourself.
- Buck the trend. Over the past fifty years, Western culture has become much more homogenized. We tend to shop for the same clothes, read the same books, and eat the same foods at the same restaurants. You can celebrate what makes your town, state, or region special by patronizing small-scale, local businesses.
Shopping locally sounds great in the abstract. But it can be a difficult idea to put into practice—especially in the suburbs. So how can you make shopping local a part of your life?
1. Shop local for food. There aren’t many local grocery stores any more, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat local.
- Farmers’ markets are a great resource in any community. Talk to local vendors who can give you great recipe ideas. Meet your neighbors. Shop in season for an environmentally friendly touch. If you don’t have enough time for a weekly trip to a farmers’ market, consider joining a crop share.
- Don’t dine at chain restaurants unless you have to. Enjoy the intimacy and unique flavor of local restaurants instead. Check out Yelp.com for suggestions of nearby local restaurants.
- Frequent independently-owned coffee shops for your morning latte. Be sure to glance at the community notice boards these local institutions usually have that advertise everything from babysitting services to nearby school plays.
- Make a rule of buying birthday cakes, doughnuts, and other sweets from local bakeries instead of the grocery store. The customer service and taste almost always makes up for the mild inconvenience.
2. Shop local for health and beauty. Barber shops and beauty shops were once important community centers where people could meet and talk.
- Look for local hair salons—even if you have to pay a little more, you’re more likely to find a talented stylist who’s also a friend.
- When you’re looking to relax, patronize local spas instead of national chains. You’ll almost always get the personalized pampering you want.
- Consider buying locally or handmade soap. Etsy is a great resource. You can even search for local vendors!
3. Shop local for books. Independent bookstores are often important community centers. It’s worth it to support yours with your business, even if it means slightly higher prices.
- You’d be surprised how many local stores are even breaking into the ebooks market. Your ebook dollars help these local institutions stay open. Check your local bookstore’s website before you shop Amazon.
- If you’re worried about higher prices, look for a local used bookstore. Their not only great for the community, but are easier on the pocketbook and environment as well.
- Keep an eye out for library sales that raise funds for important library services.
4. Shop local for everything else you need. If you’re willing to choose quality and community involvement over one-stop-shop convenience, you’ll be surprised how many of the things you need you can buy locally.
- Instead of using an on-line print service, look for a local camera store. You’ll love the better customer service and you won’t have to pay on-line retailers’ excessive shipping fees.
- Shop for clothes at local shops or, if boutiques are out of your budget, check out nearby consignment shops and thrift stores for a less-expensive, greener option. You’re sure to find something unique and exciting.
- Ditch your big-box home improvement warehouse for a local or independently-owned hardware store. They’ll almost always give you better customer service than their larger competitors.
- When you need work done on your house, consider going with a local business rather than a national chain. The local guys are usually eager to earn your loyalty, so you’re likely to get more customized care. If you need help finding good local contractors, consider joining Angie’s List. For a small, monthly fee, you’ll get access to customer reviews of local businesses.
Shopping local isn’t very difficult, but it can make a big difference to your community and your own quality of life.