Shopping Local has taken a major hit from the Coronavirus lockdown of 2020. In fact, it may be argued that more local shops have closed and died than the amount actually deaths from the virus itself.
Either way, the Corona Lockdown of 2020 has had its greatest effect on the local business community. This was something that could not be avoided as the health of our communities are also paramount.
But as we come from under this dark ominous corona lockdown, we’re all ae going to be looking for this to do, places to shop, and ways to have fun again.
So here are a few reasons to begin shopping local after all of this blows over.
If you’re like most Americans, the second neighborhood sounds more appealing to you. In a 2015 survey by the Urban Land Institute, when asked what kind of place they wanted to live in, more than half of people said they wanted a neighborhood where they wouldn’t need a car very often. Over 40% specifically mentioned local shopping and entertainment as one of their top priorities.
Unfortunately, it’s tough these days for local businesses to stay open. They face stiff competition from big-box chain stores and online retailers, which usually offer lower prices and a more extensive selection. If you want to see your town’s local businesses survive and prosper, you have to go the extra mile – or more accurately, stay close to home – to shop there.
Why Shopping Local Matters
When you have shopping to do, it’s tempting to take the easy route and head down to the mall – or easier still, just browse Amazon. Major chain stores and Internet retailers offer a vast selection plus the convenience of one-stop shopping. On top of that, their prices often beat the local stores.
But keeping your dollars in your hometown has other advantages that are just as important as saving a few bucks, even if they’re not immediately apparent. By shopping locally, you reap such benefits as:
- A Stronger Economy. Local businesses hire local workers. In addition to staff for the stores, they hire local architects and contractors for building and remodeling, local accountants and insurance brokers to help them run the business, and local ad agencies to promote it. They’re also more likely than chain stores to carry goods that are locally produced, according to the American Independent Business Alliance. All these factors together create a “multiplier effect,” meaning that each dollar spent in a local store brings as much as $3.50 into the local economy. By contrast, large chain stores tend to displace as many local jobs as they create because they often drive local retailers out of business.
- A Closer Community. Shopping at local businesses gives neighbors a chance to connect. It’s easier to get to know someone you often see at a local coffeehouse than someone you only wave to on your way in and out of your house. Knowing your neighbors makes it possible to exchange favors, such as pet-sitting or sharing tools.
- A Cleaner Environment. Having stores in your immediate neighborhood means you can leave your car parked and do your errands on foot or by bicycle. Fewer cars on the road means less traffic, less noise, and less pollution. If you made just one trip each week on foot instead of making a 10-mile round trip by car, you would reduce your annual driving by 520 miles. That would save about 24 gallons of gas and keep 0.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, according to calculations from the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Better Health. Running errands on foot is better for your health. Walking is great exercise that helps keep your weight under control, strengthens your heart, and prevents disease. A 2011 study published in the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society found that U.S. counties with thriving local businesses also have lower mortality rates, a slimmer population, and a lower incidence of diabetes.
- A Great Place to Live. The last factor is more difficult to measure than the others, but it’s just as important. Local businesses make your town a better, more interesting place to live. One suburban housing development looks much like another, but a town center with thriving local businesses has a feel that’s all its own. Local eateries, bars, bookstores, food markets, pharmacies, and gift shops all combine to give a place its unique character.
How to Support Your Local Economy
There are many ways to support businesses in your area. For instance, if you have a local hardware store, look there first when you need anything for your house instead of heading down to the big-box home-improvement store. Most towns have at least a couple of local restaurants or bars, and choosing these places when you eat out is another way to support your local economy. Or buy your produce from a local farmers market or shop for clothes at a local boutique.
Of course, all this depends on exactly which local businesses are available in your town. Since each town’s local economy is unique, the first step is learning what businesses you have around you, where they are, and when they’re open.
- Learn About Local Businesses
To learn more about local businesses in your area, set aside a day to explore your town and see what it has to offer. Since part of the benefit of shopping local comes from being able to run errands on foot, if possible, leave your car at home and focus on the area within walking distance.
If you’ve never really walked around your town before, a map will help you figure out where to go. A company called Discovery Map publishes colorfully illustrated maps of various towns that show places to stay, eat, shop, and entertain yourself locally. If there’s a map for your town, pull it up on your phone or tablet and use it as you explore.
If Discovery Map doesn’t have a map for your town, try your local chamber of commerce. In many areas, the chamber publishes maps or shopping guides to promote local businesses. Call or visit its office and ask whether a map is available for your town. If all else fails, find your location online and search for local businesses nearby, though the listings aren’t always accurate.
If you can’t find a guide to local businesses, make your own. Start at one end of the main street or one corner of the central shopping district and work your way along, making note of all the businesses you see along the way. When you see one that looks useful or interesting, stop and make a note of its name, location, and hours. Then, the next time you need to find a tailor, for example, you’ll know exactly where they are.
- Shop Locally
Once you’ve identified local businesses in your area, the next step is to make shopping at them part of your usual routine. Since local businesses often can’t match the low prices of big-box stores, it’s challenging if you’re on a tight budget.
However, there are several ways to get around this problem:
- Budget for It. Set aside a small sum in your personal budget each month specifically for local shopping. Then, when you want to buy something at a local store but you’re hesitating over the price, you have the money in your budget. For instance, if a local, independent bookstore is charging $20 for a book that’s only $14 on Amazon, count the extra $6 as part of your local shopping budget for the month.
- Go Local for Services. Goods are often cheaper at big-box stores that sell cheap, mass-produced wares. However, services are often just as cheap (or even cheaper) when you buy them locally. For example, when I needed to print up a bunch of mailers for a folk festival I volunteered for, a local print shop gave me a better price – and was much more convenient to use – than Kinko’s. Likewise, taking a pair of worn-out shoes to my local shoe-repair shop for resoling is cheaper than buying a new pair.
- Shop Local for the Holidays. Shopping local is an excellent choice for holiday gifts because a present feels more special when it comes from your own hometown. Each year, American Express sponsors an event called Small Business Saturday on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to encourage people to start their holiday shopping at local businesses, and many independent businesses offer special sales on this day. Other local businesses have exclusive deals or events for Plaid Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as an alternative to the Black Friday sales at major retailers.
- Eat Locally
Not all local businesses are useful to everyone. For instance, a children’s clothing store isn’t of much use to you if you don’t have kids. However, everybody has to eat, so shopping locally for food is one of the best ways to support your local economy.
A locally owned grocery store is a good place to start, but a farmers market is even better. Shopping there gives you a chance to meet not just the people who sell your food, but the people who grow it. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the number of farmers markets in the country has increased nearly fivefold since 1994, so your chances of finding a market in your area are better than ever.
Doing your shopping at farmers markets has several advantages over supermarket shopping:
- Quality. Farmers market produce is usually fresher than the goods sold at supermarkets. Since farmers grow the food locally, it hasn’t spent days or weeks traveling across the country. The fresher fruits and vegetables are, the better they taste, the more nutrients they retain, and the longer they stay fresh before you eat them.
- Sustainability. Locally grown food doesn’t have to be shipped long distances, which reduces its carbon footprint – the amount of greenhouse gas produced in growing, harvesting, and transporting it. Also, most sellers at farmers markets are small-scale growers who can more easily adopt green growing practices. According to the Farmers Market Coalition, nearly half of all farmers markets sell organic products – and 3 out of 4 farmers who sell their goods at farmers markets grow food in a way that meets organic standards, even if they don’t have official organic certifications. Also, 48% of them use integrated pest management – a method of controlling pests with minimal damage to the environment – and 81% use soil health practices, such as growing cover crops and producing their own compost.
- Information. Buying directly from the grower is the surest way to know where your food comes from and how it was produced. At a farmers market, the person behind the counter knows the answer to all kinds of questions a clerk at a supermarket doesn’t. For example, they can explain which varieties of apples are better for cooking and which are better for eating or tell you which breed of chicken produced the eggs you’re buying and how they raised the hens.
- Atmosphere. Farmers markets are typically friendlier, more personal settings than big supermarkets. It’s much easier to strike up a conversation with a fellow shopper searching through a bin of melons at the farmers market than with a stranger pushing a cart past you at the grocery store. The Farmers Market Coalition also reports that in a 2015 survey, farmers market shoppers said they typically had 15 to 20 social interactions during each visit as compared to just one or two when they shopped at the supermarket.
Another way to support local farmers is through community-supported agriculture (CSA). Through a CSA, a farm sells shares of its crops for the year directly to consumers. If an entire CSA share is too much food for your family, you can split one with a neighbor and strengthen your community ties still more.
A final way to shop locally for your groceries is through a food co-op. A co-op is a grocery store that’s owned jointly by the people who shop there, so joining one gives you a say in what the store sells and how it’s run. Joining a co-op and attending its meetings is a way to meet and interact with your neighbors. And since most co-ops specialize in food that’s locally produced, including organic foods, it’s a way to support local growers.
- Bank Locally
Another way to keep your money in your community is to literally keep your money at a local community bank or credit union rather than a large national bank. Banking locally offers several benefits:
- Lower Cost. Many locally owned banks and credit unions offer the same services as the big national banks, such as credit cards and online bill payment. However, their rates and fees are typically quite a bit better. The National Credit Union Administration, the federal agency that regulates federal credit unions, reports that compared to banks, credit unions usually offer higher interest rates on deposits, lower interest rates on loans, and lower fees. Furthermore, according to the 2019 Banking Landscape Report from Wallethub, checking accounts from community banks are 48% cheaper than those from national banks, pay 45% more interest, and have more features.
- Better Service. Community banks and credit unions offer more personal service because they serve a much smaller area. At a community bank or credit union, the teller will often recognize you, remember your name, and take time to answer your questions. Community banks and credit unions don’t always offer the 24-hour phone service you get from the big banks. But anyone who’s ever spent time trying to navigate the menu on a national bank’s phone lines and connect to a human being knows that isn’t much of a drawback.
- Supporting the Local Economy. Community banks and credit unions make most of their money from loans to local people and businesses. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a community development organization, reports that more than half of all loans to small businesses come from small to mid-size banks and credit unions. Because small local banks make most of their loans within the community, they have an interest in helping that community prosper.
- Your spending will boost the local economy
Research on spending by local authorities shows that for every £1 spent with a small or medium-sized business 63p stayed in the local economy, compared to 40p with a larger business.
High streets populated with thriving independent businesses boost the prices of nearby homes, according to a recent study. The research by American Express found that house prices near a prosperous town centre have risen by an average of £40,000 more over the past decade than other properties.
- It is the ethical choice
Buying out-of-season produce, like strawberries in December, lowers your eco-credentials. As does eating turkey and carrots that have been flown halfway round the world or wrapped in layers of plastic. When you shop at local butchers, bakers, farm shops and green grocers, it is likely that a decent percentage of the produce has had a short field-to-fork journey. Along with supporting local farmers, it means the food is likely to contain more nutrients and have less packaging.
- They sell quirky, one-off gifts
Independent shops often stock items which are made locally and aren’t available elsewhere: buy a dress by a fledgling designer and there is little chance of turning up to the office Christmas party wearing the same as someone else.
Photograph: Graeme Robertson
When it comes to gifts, quirky one-off items are a major plus of independent shops. Give your niece or nephew a handmade toy and at least it won’t be identical to everything they already have.
There’s also the hyper-local gift choice: independent bookshops often stock titles by local authors that aren’t yet on the shelves of the major chains, says Carol Thompson, co-founder of Chorlton Traders, a group of independent businesses based in south Manchester. “Local shops also support local artists and designers, food producers and growers, so you’re buying products absolutely unique to your area.”
- You will be supporting British entrepreneurs
Artisan markets help foster the talents of the next generation of British designers and retailers. “[They] are hotbeds of innovation,” says Mike Cooksedge, founder of SeeMyLocalMarket. “There is a constant turnover of new products, and sellers listen to customers’ demands. If a certain pie filling is popular, for example, a pie company will respond to that and quickly supply more of them – and you can suggest things too, so you can even have a bit of influence over the products on sale.”
- You can help build communities
Bookshops, cafes and craft shops often drum up custom by hosting events, from book groups to knitting clubs and children’s events. If the businesses are not supported, the local groups tend to disappear too.
Markets also often give space to community groups and social enterprises, says Ellie Gill, campaign manager at Love Your Local Market. “Markets can have a community value, as there is often a social purpose to stalls – they can be public spaces as well as retail outlets.”
- You might get a better deal or some good advice
Local bakers throw in extra bagels for regulars; grocers give informal 10% discounts; and market stall holders are prepared to negotiate on prices. Independent retailers can use their discretion to reward regular custom, and it can mean you get discounts on the items you actually want to buy, rather than being tempted by multi-buy offers in the big chains.
If you get to know your independent trader they should be able to recommend products to you, says Michelle Ovens, national campaign manager for Small Business Saturday. “For example, if you have a particular dietary requirement they can be great at telling you all about products you may wish to buy.”
- You can sometimes try before you buy
Photograph: Getty Images
Major retailers have the advantage of economies of scale and can afford to slash prices and offer reduced costs. However, it’s easy to waste money on products you end up not actually liking. You can hardly crack open a bottle of fizz in a supermarket aisle and do a quick taste test, or check if an apple is crunchy by taking a big bite. Neither can you do this online. At independent retailers, however, it’s easier to ask to sample a product. Many independent off-licences throw regular wine tasting events, while farm shops, bakeries and delis hand out tasters as a matter of course.
The casual encounters you enjoy at neighborhood–scale businesses and the public spaces around them build relationships and community cohesiveness. (source 1, source 5) They’re the ultimate social networking sites!
STRENGTHEN YOUR LOCAL ECONOMY!
Each dollar you spend at independent businesses returns 3 times more money (source 2) to your local economy than one spent at a chain (almost 50 times more than buying from an online mega-retailer) — a benefit we all can bank on.
Click here to download all 13 “Why Buy Local?” banners for web and social media!
SHAPE OUR CHARACTER!
Independent businesses help give your community its distinct personality.
YOU CAN BUY IT WHERE YOU TRY IT!
Local stores enable you to try on and try out items before you buy — and get real expertise — saving your time and money. To learn more on this topic, see 7 Ways Businesses and Communities Can Counter Showrooming
CREATE A HEALTHIER ENVIRONMENT!
Independent, community-serving businesses are people-sized. They typically consume less land, carry more locally-made products, locate closer to residents and create less traffic and air pollution. (source 3) More on this topic: Buying Green Means Buying Local.
More efficient land use and more central locations mean local businesses put less demand on our roads, sewers, and safety services. They also generate more tax revenue per sales dollar. The bottom line: a greater percentage of local independent businesses keeps your taxes lower. (source 4)
GET REAL VALUE FOR YOURSELF!
Reader surveys by the Consumers Union repeatedly show independent businesses beating their chain competitors in overall customer satisfaction (and often save you money).
A wide variety of independent businesses, each serving their customers’ tastes, creates greater overall choice for all of us.
INCREASE WEALTH OF RESIDENTS!
The multiplier effect created by spending locally generates lasting impact on the prosperity of local organizations and residents. (source 6)
Click image for details
CREATE JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES!
Not only do independent businesses employ more people directly per dollar of revenue, they also are the customers of local printers, accountants, wholesalers, farms, attorneys, etc., expanding opportunities for local entrepreneurs.
GIVE BACK TO YOUR COMMUNITY!
Small businesses donate more than twice as much per sales dollar to local non-profits, events, and teams compared to big businesses. (source 5)
ENHANCE LOCAL DEMOCRACY!
Local ownership of business means residents with roots in the community are involved in key development decisions that shape our lives and local environment.
ENHANCE HEALTH OF RESIDENTS!
Research shows a strong correlation between the percentage of small locally-owned firms and various indicators of personal and community health and vitality. (source 7)