‘Shop local’ is a two-way street


George Hasara – Columnist

In general terms I like the idea of shopping local. Supporting hometown businesses is a good thing, and it’s enjoyable to get out and about in the community. However, I’ve always been a tad uneasy with the marketing message of “shop local.” It sounds more like a command than a request, as if to be followed by “Or else!” or at least “Don’t you really care about the local economy?” 

Despite an ever-changing retail landscape, shopping local still has the perpetual advantage of time and distance. Not too many people are going to drive 50 miles to buy a loaf of bread when they can walk five blocks instead. I don’t expect to see Amazon drones delivering lattes in my lifetime. There is nothing that can replace physically being in a store and examining an item you are interested in buying. No amount of googling can replace the insight of a knowledgeable shopkeeper.

However, there are different types of purchases and considerations that are difficult to satisfy locally. Many people are willing to pay more for something purchased in their hometown, but only to a point. At some point, price does become the determining factor and successful business people understand this. Typically, the smaller the community, the smaller the retail selection. Most of my online purchases involve items that aren’t available in this area. In some cases, I could have had something ordered by a local merchant, but I’d rather save the money and time and not add another middleman to the transaction.

What would happen if people rigorously followed the advice of shopping and buying local? Ironically, the communities that push the idea the most would probably suffer the most in lost trade. Many businesses in this area rely on tourism and the last thing they need is for potential visitors to stay home and shop local, at least not exclusively. 

In a related field, what if people also decided to “invest local?” The same arguments used for shopping can be applied to investing. Imagine if our out-of-state investments plunged. The housing and then the construction market would tank, dragging down a host of other businesses. And, of course, down the road, the taxman would get a smaller cut as well. Yep, keep those investment dollars flowing.

Trade, whether its global, national, statewide or local is all connected. The beauty of the marketplace is that there are millions upon millions of decisions or votes for what goods and services are desired and at what price. 

Perhaps the narrative of how to improve the local business climate should rest more with the merchants than with residents. Patronage needs to be earned not given. As a former business owner, I had no interest in being “supported” solely on the basis of my street address. The responsibility has always been on businesses to offer good value. The more that happens, the less the need will be to remind the public to shop local.

Contact George at georgehasara@yahoo.com.