Shop Local: Do It for Yourself & for Your Community

Enviro Girl is a HUGE fan of shopping at locally owned and operated businesses.  From restaurants to florists to film developers to groceries, if it’s owned by Mom and Pop, you’ll find her spending her money there.  In fact, she goes out of her way to avoid shopping at “Big Box” and franchise stores.  She’ll go years without shopping at the local mall and tries her very best to spend her money at the stores on “Main Street.”  Her reasons are environmental, political  and economical — here’s the breakdown of why she shops local:

1. More money stays in the local economy when we shop local.  According to the 3/50 Project, for every $100 spent at local independent businesses, $68 stays in the community, vs. $43 at a non locally owned business.  Shop online and none of it returns to your town.  Want to boost your area’s economy?  Shop local.  Enviro Girl likes her money to go to her neighbors and friends, not to the Waltons or the Kohls (even though they live in her state).  When she considered this fact, Enviro Girl even gave up (to a large extent) shopping online, making the extra effort to keep those dollars in her local economy by going to the Toys R Us brick and mortar store for her kids’ Lego kits.

2.  Local businesses give locally.  Check out the back of Little League t-shirts and programs from local theater productions — it’s Lou’s Diner and King’s Variety Store sponsoring community life.  It’s pretty darn hypocritical to beg the locally owned businesses for donations to your school’s silent auction and then turn around and shop at the Big Box Stores who don’t give to local organizations at the level that independent retailers do. Bottom line:  if you want their support, you have to give them YOUR support.

3.  Locally-owned ensures choice and diversity.  Whether you live in Wisconsin or Florida, Target sells swimsuits in March–that’s because the decision about what to stock and when to display it is made at a national level, not local.  Chains don’t have any regard for local needs, climate or concerns. Chains don’t have character.  Sadly, many folks live in areas where Big Box stores have taken over, leaving no choice, no diversity.

4.  Locally owned means COLOR and CHARACTER.  Whether you’re cruising past Salt Lake City, Utah; San Francisco, California or Madison, Wisconsin you’ll see the same storefronts and signs:  Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, Target, McDonald’s, Olive Garden–from sea to shining sea America is morphing into one continuous landscape without any unique characteristic.  How depressing.  If you value the unique color of your downtown, you have to leave your money behind supporting it.  If you don’t, those stores shutter up and you’re left with nothing but Big Box and franchise shopping experiences that look no different whether you’re in the suburbs or in an airport concourse.

5.  Luring chain stores costs communities more than they benefit them. The tax revenue drops, an equal number of jobs are displaced, the co-dependence of locally owned businesses is broken when Big Box stores enter the picture because they’re beholden to no one local.

6.  Big Box stores and chain stores and superstores waste land resources, contributing to urban sprawl and suburban blight.  New Mexico now has eight empty Wal-Mart stores.  Colorado has two, both exceed 100,000 square feet, not counting the parking lot.  Strip malls give way to enclosed malls and free-standing megastores.  Wal-Mart has 400 stores sitting empty, 30 million square feet of empty building and that much more asphalt-covered parking lot.

7.  In addition to wasting land resources, chain stores pull traffic away from “Main Street America” and out to the edges of town, creating more reliance on driving and resulting in more dependence on cars. Most new retail outlets are not pedestrian or bike-friendly and many strain already underfunded public transportation by adding miles and miles to their routes — pulling shoppers and workers further from the central hub of their communities. Chain stores add to traffic congestion and taxpayers end up footing the bill to manage and reroute traffic every time a new Big Box gets built.  In this article, Enviro Girl learned that the new trend in chain stores is to go SMALLER to fit into neighborhoods once again in response to consumer demand.  Turns out people want shopping centers in the CENTER of their communities–it’s easier for pedestrians, more convenient and creates a stronger sense of community.  Enviro Girl adds that in the face of an aging Baby Boomer population, better pedestrian convenience will keep more elderly people in a position to live independently.

8.  Urban sprawl that inevitably results from Big Box stores puts more stress on a community’s infrastructure.  It increases pollution to air and groundwater.  It demands expansion of sewer, water, electricity, garbage pick up, police patrol and first response services.  Remember, this “economic development” happens at taxpayers’ expense.

9.  Shopping local means more expertise and more attentive customer service.  Why?  Because that’s what they have to offer instead of loss leaders in aisle 7.  Enviro Girl recently went to Scheels for batting gloves for her son.  She asked the “Baseball Expert” working in that department advice.  The “Baseball Expert” did what Enviro Girl was capable of doing–he looked at the racks and pulled gloves labeled “Youth.”  Enviro Girl argues that minimum wage retail workers have no skin in the game, but a small shop owner does, resulting in much better knowledge about their inventory and how to fulfill customer needs.

10.  Shopping local means connecting with your community.  Enviro Girl talks about local theater with the guy who bags her groceries and she’s taken karate classes with a local florist.  These people live in her town, work in her town and are invested in her town.  Their livelihoods depend on Enviro Girl just as hers depends on theirs.  She will not break that cycle just to save a few bucks on film development because the ten reasons she’s just listed mean more to her than money.

Do your community a favor this Christmas:  shop local.  Check out The 3/50 Project to learn more about how you can support your locally owned businesses.

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