Not too many years ago, I was home visiting my small home town from grad school, and in the middle of the small community was something I had never seen before: a Dollar General store. It was a huge change for our town that has a population of less than 800. We had local grocery stores, we had a post office, we had hair salons, and we even had a local business movie rental place. All local businesses owned by citizens of our community. The Dollar General was the first chain that had ever hit Symsonia. And the response to the change, I remember, was mixed. Some of the people who had grown up and grown old there did not like the change. Some people who’d been there all there life were neutral but positive. Some people were absolutely stoked that they weren’t going to have drive ten to twenty minutes to the local city to get small amounts of groceries.
But however the change affected people, the Dollar General’s business flourished. It was conveniece, something that we Americans are quite used to, and soon after it had opened it’s doors, everyone found their way to the chain to do their shopping.
But, those “negative old people”, as some people would say, were only negative about one thing, and made a good prediction: They grew up with mom and pop shops, local businesses, and this chain retail store meant that local businesses would suffer tremendously. And for the local businesses that sold groceries and thrift shops that sold cheap household products and clothing, they did suffer. Now that I have been home for about ten months, I’ve seen what used to be a thriving grocery store basically stop selling gasoline, sell items until they run out, and basically stay open solely through their pizza sales and lunch meat sales. They have not had gas in their pumps for two months now! The business is wasting away! What’s sad is, while the prices are higher in this local grocery store, someone is working countless hours to keep that shop going! Another convenient store changed hands twice and then basically stopped being a convenience store and more of a restaurant that sells gas. It’s heartbreaking to see things that you used to appreciate during your childhood and teenage years fail because something bigger with more money attached to it could just make itself more convenient for its customers.
This is not a post commanding you to stop shopping chains or eating at chained restaurants. Again, I reiterate, that Americans are quite used to convenience. However, I want to also point out major benefits you’ll get from supporting that cafe on the corner, or the local farmer’s market, or the grocery store down the street! There are many! And for those who have a harder time getting around to local businesses, I have provided small tips for you to try out so you can get your support on!
First I want to start with the major benefits:
1. Giving to your local businesses means giving back to the community!
When you give money to support your local business you are essentially helping your local economy get a big boost! Local businesses take pride in building relationships with people in their surrounding communites. They will hire locally, but also they will more than likely get their names out there by being the first to sponsor local events. Want to advertise your theatre’s upcoming production, more than likely you can bring a poster or fliers to your local business and they’ll let you advertise. Marathons, half-marathons, 5k? Local businesses are there to support! They’ll be likely to donate money, match specific amounts of money donated, provide meals, etc to help an event run more smoothly. So when you give a little money for your support that local grocery store or bakery, you can feel as though you are giving to your neighbore or to little Susie who is in Girls Scouts because a percentage of the profits made for a local business will be giving back to the surrounding areas.
2. You’ll get better service for a better price
Often times people avoid local business because they think the prices are going to be higher than the corporate version down the street. This is not always the case. In fact there are several things to take into consideration when comparing local businesses to coporate change. As Nicole Leinbach-reyhle states in her Forbe’s Article written in September of last year, “When you consider how many small businesses surround you in your everyday lives, it is impressive to think about the amount of time, commitment and labor these hard working individuals contribute to make their businesses both come to life and stay alive.” The individuals have such pride in good customer service that you will get more personable individuals helping you, not just some person who is just going through the motions until their next pay check. Also, often times people don’t take into consideration that if you get a local plumber, electrician, taylor, grocery store, you’re going to have a better chance of getting a fair price. Not any fluff with “labor” charges or high labor charges will likely be on the bill. Of course, there are a few exceptions out there, where you don’t feel as though you got a better deal. That’s why you shop around first, but I ask that you don’t assume someone will charge you because they’re local.
which leads to….
3. You build stronger relationships with vendors
If you regularly go to the local cafe to get your iced coffee, or say, go every tuesday on your lunch break, you’ll more than likely experience that the people there will remember you. I often went to a local cafe that was a block away from me on the weekends to get tea while shopping on the farmer’s market. They’d remember me and my drink, then while I was waiting they would have an actual conversation with me! Plus, to tie back to number 1, if you know a vendor well, they’ll be one of the first to back you up if you’re planning an event. And of course, they’ll bring quality to their product.
4. You get to enjoy being thrown into local culture
I absolutely love visit local shops, bakeries, grocery stores, and restaurants because whereever you are geographically you’re going to get an experience in the culture. Jeff and I traveled to the upper peninsula of Michigan for a wedding in June. We stayed the weekend in an old train station that had been turned into a loft and huge dining hall with the bride and groom-to-be in a little town named Negaunee. While setting up the dining hall for the recetpion one afternoon I went a few blocks down the street in the downtown area and found a place called Midtown Market Bakery (which, we found out later, was also where we the bride and groom had their wedding cake made) to order sandwiches. The rustic decor added to the experience of ordering sandwiches and soups for everyone involved.
Midtown Market Cafe’s Dining area; Negaunee, MI
It represented what I find a lot in local bakeries: support of local community shops and wonderful service. They had food allergy choices, vegan, vegetarian choices. They knew their food and beverages (most homemade) very well. You definitely could tell they spend a lot of time in making not only their food delicious but the experience in their business have a feel of what it’s like to live in the upper peninsula. What I’ve seen in local cafes and businesses is art work made by local artists, business cards and fliers for other businesses, jewlrey made by local artists, and products made or grown by local farmers and merchants. You get a feel of community within the local business itself. And doesn’t get better than that!
5. Supporting local business creates a strong force for sustainability.
It’s pretty simple: If you support a local business, then you’re giving money to provide jobs, which help people make money to spend on other businesses, which helps the local economy boom. Even if everyone spent a little amount of money every week, you’d often be surprised how much those little amounts add up to a big number.
You see it in political promises from representitives all of the time: let’s rebuild America’s infrastructure! Well, you can take that into your own hands in some ways. One of those is to put your money into small businesses. The positive affect? you know where your money is going. When you purchase something at a corporate store like Walmart, you don’t exactly know where exactly that money is going. Is it really going to the employees because last time I checked I still go to Wallyworld and see four hundred people in line and only three registers out of twenty seven are open! Is your money going to furnish another bonus for a ceo? Is it going to a factory farm that furnishes beef that do not treat or kill the animals humanely? Okay, that was a harsh rant, but it is as honest as it comes. Sometimes having more care in your service and your products goes a long way! And most local businesses, if not all, are going to make sure you get quality products. Then you want to buy that quality product, and then the cycle of sustainability begins.
So, now that I’ve talked about benefits, if you’re still wondering how you can give yourself a breath of fresh air and do your part to give support, then here are a few tips for you to follow….
1. Try to give money to a local business once a week.
When you’re in a small town like I am, it’s easy to give to a local mom and pop shop. When you’re in the city, it’s easier said than done. So start small. Shop around and see if you find a local business that you’re interested in. Whether that local grocery store just has the best produce, or if you like to get a coffee at that local cafe, try to stick with supporting that business once or twice a week. Then when you feel its more plausible, go for more times in a week.
2. Attend Small Business Saturday vs. going to Black Friday sales.
Black Friday has always been intense, but it’s especially been intense in the past five years. I mean, a walmart employee was trampled to death one year for goodness sakes! Small Business Saturday occurs the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and it’s main objective is to drive shoppers into their local mom and pop shops and enhance job growth and economic growth in the community. It’s become such a big movement that larger companies in-store and online are boycotting a participation in Black Friday. It’s been said time and time again that small businesses are the backbone of this country, and this is one way to support our infrastructure and job growth.
3. Make a vow to spend a certain amount of money at specific local businesses!
I was so proud a couple of months ago when Beezy’s Cafe, a local business I often dined at in Ypsilanti, Michigan during my grad school years, and many of my friends work at, made the New York Times’ article on a start up company that gives business loans based on the loyalty of said business’ customers. Beezy’s was one of this company’s clients. Beezy’s has so many regular customers that the owner convinced customers of an inner circle to make pledges. The pledge? For them to agree to spend $475 a year at the restaurant. That’s just $9.14 a week! And if they didn’t think they could do it or if they wanted to back out, they could. And for the most part it has been successful! It helps them pay back their loan, and customers are spending a mere ten bucks a week for delicious food with quality ingredients and quality service! Check out your local businesses and see if they have something like this going on! Or just make your own goal to spend a certain amount every year with one business.
4. Go off the beaten path when doing road travel
It’s tempting to just stop at the McDonald’s or Denny’s when traveling. But if you’re driving through a city big enough, more than likely you can venture off your exit and find a small restaurant with cool souvenirs!
5. Finally, Make a switch out!
Go to a local cafe instead of Starbucks! Taking a cliet out for a luncheon or performing a dinner interview for a possible job candidate? Take them to a local restaurant! Let them see the community at its best with good service! Sometimes you can find really good fish in chain grocery stores but can find the best apples or peaches at the local for farmers market for cheap prices. Shop around and see what works for you! But every now and then, give yourself a breath of fresh air and change your routine.