Some version of the inspiring message on this blackboard has been all over social media. The sentiment is great. When you buy something locally, that money you spend directly benefits people in your neighbourhood — people just like me.
I’m not sure where that sandwich board is from, whether in a town with 30,000 people, or somewhere where more compli- cated math is being done on another black- board. It seems simple enough — $100 isn’t a ton of money (to some people), and certainly you are making a difference (wow, $3 million dollars! That sounds like a lot!).
So why aren’t you doing it?
Many of you are, but the ‘Shop Local’ movement is more complicated than this (possibly inaccurate) sandwich board makes it out to be. We want to spend more money on local businesses, but in order for us to do that we’re going to have to change some serious habits. Shopping locally is not like going to the mall, or shopping online. It’s a bit more work, but it’s good for you, like eating leafy green vegetables.
Here are some steps to becoming a savvy local shopper.
Get out of your car
As a shop owner, I hear a lot from customers about a lack of available parking. You likely won’t find many local businesses at indoor or outdoor malls — you may need to go downtown, find parking, and maybe walk a bit to reach your destination. Getting to know those sneaky convenient parking spaces that are free and always available is one of the best local-shopping skills. Don’t be afraid to meander up and down a few streets, you’ll be amazed what you may find along the way. Try transit, rent a SoBi bike or walk to your local shops. This can be a tough choice to make, since shopping today can be as simple as clicking a mouse and waiting for the delivery. But you will find there is so much to be discovered if you slow down and take a look around.
Forget about ‘one-stop shopping’
We’re used to shopping at places with lots of selection — a variety of products at a range of prices. Being a local business means being a specialist, so there is rarely ‘one stop shopping’. Local businesses are a lot of different things in the community: cafes, bakeries, restaurants, local grocers, butchers, and farmers’ markets. They are artisan stores and mom and pop shops. You may need to know what you are looking for before you find it, or you may want to go on a journey from place to place to gather things and see what you find. Most likely, you will need to visit more than one place to get all the things you need. Shopping locally means spending more time, planning ahead and being open to exploration.
Choose quality over quantity
Shopping locally often asks you to spend more money on items for higher quality, uniqueness of product, or environmental benefit. We, as consumers, are naturally price driven, so shopping locally often means ignoring the sales at the mall and making choices about what to buy, instead of being told what to buy. Be more thoughtful about your purchases. Use shopping locally to define your style. If part of the ‘shop local’ mandate is to shop less and spend more, it is a difficult message to deliver in a sexy marketing campaign compared to 75 per cent off, or buy one get one free.
People who make the choice to work with me instead of buying online, at a big retailer, or international brand put food on my table. It allows me to create jobs for the community. My staff and I then spend our money at local restaurants, markets, and shops. So the $100 you spend locally doesn’t just put $3 million (or some other more reasonable number) into the economy. It does so much more. It allows people to live their passion and gives life to your community.
Shopping locally is maybe a bit more like environmental conservation than eating your vegetables — it’s good for you, and for those around you. You are creating a better economical ecosystem. It requires a lifestyle change, but it will benefit the health of the community in the long run. Think about where you spent your last $100, and where you plan to spend your next $100. Slow down, seek out what the people around you are doing and feel good about supporting your community.