Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Step 4 - Familiarize Yourself With Local Businesses


Open up a phone book, or take a walk downtown and get to know your local businesses. For those of us who live in towns, cities and communities that have a "Main Street" or a downtown area, we are blessed to have all those wonderful shops within walking distance of each other. But sadly, not many of us utilize this convenience and downtowns all over the country are full of empty store fronts and run-down buildings. The consequences of this are tremendous. Local businesses are owned by members within your community, they hire your neighbors, they use other local services (banks, print shops, newspapers), and because of all that, the money you spend at these local businesses stays within your community. 

The opposite is true of big box stores and chain retailers. Although they hire local people to work their stores, they pay them less and offer less benefits (many Walmart employees are on state supplied health insurance and food assistance programs), they bank at their headquarters in Arkansas, and they do all their printing there as well. Supporting these types of national stores detracts money from your community, it closes down locally owned businesses, and it does detrimental environmental damage.

So back to locally owned businesses we must go. The benefits of shopping locally far outweigh the few cents or dollars you save by shopping at a chain retailer. The American Independent Business Alliance states on their website for creating local economies through Buy Local campaigns:

Think of your favorite shop, restaurant, farm or service provider. We'll bet it's a homegrown business. Independent locally-owned businesses are essential to a vital local economy and community character. They're where the locals go. They're owned by our friends and neighbors, or maybe even by you. Community-serving businesses are the backbone of local economies, civic life, local charities, and wealth creation for millions of citizens, as well as a training ground for future generations of entrepreneurs.

The next time you need to go shopping, head downtown first. Familiarize yourself with the businesses within your community. Look at their inventory, meet the employees and owner, and find out their histories – are they from your town? Why did they open the store? How long have they been open? Every dollar you spend at a local business stays within your community, and the more money that stays in our communities, the stronger they will be.

I will give you a brief personal anecdote about the relationship I have with my local businesses in Bath. There is a toy store downtown, Papa Ghepetto's, and I have four children. My parents went into that store to buy Christmas presents the week after they opened and bought these amazing Melissa & Doug puppets. They told me about the store and I went to check it out with my children. In the years since, we have bought 85% of all our kids toys there because the benefit of doing so has been immeasurable. The owners know us, they love our children, and there have been several times they have gone out of their way to make us happy. They gave one child a fairy princess for free because a butterfly had broken off (this child did not care if the butterfly was there or not). Another time they gave us a box of Melissa & Doug castle building blocks for free because they had used them as a display. The owner called and talked to the Melissa & Doug customer service for me when I bought some wooden cupcakes that were not up to par - the result was a 2nd box of cupcakes for free! They even sold us their train table for ridiculously cheap. I wouldn't get that type of service at Toys 'R Us, Walmart or Target.

This is only one story among many I have of how shopping locally at the businesses owned by my neighbors and friends has been a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Please take a moment and share in the comments any anecdotes you have about your experiences supporting local businesses.

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