Sure, the convenience of those big-box stores is nice because you can get almost everything you need (and a bunch of stuff you don’t, if you are anything like the average person – myself included) in one place, but do you know where your money goes after you give it to the clerk? It heads right back to the big-box headquarters, paying out giant bonuses and perks to the bigwigs while leaving the workers to fight for minimum wage and meager benefits. I fight the urge to buy everything at the big-box stores as much as the next person, because of convenience and price, but when I think about where my money is going it does make it a little easier to try to search out smaller shops. When I lived in New Mexico, I lived in a very small town where most of the stores and restaurants were locally-owned, and I tried to make it a point of buying from them instead of driving the 63 miles to the nearest Target Superstore. (There was a Walmart in my town, but I never shop there for reasons I won’t get into here and that you guys have heard before) Sometimes it took going to 2 different stores to find what I needed, or spending an extra $.50 over the price it would have been “down the hill”, but it was worth it because there was a local human behind the storefront.
These people worked very hard to keep their small businesses alive in town, and as a resident of the town, I wanted to support them as much as I can. And even though I now live in a major city again, I still prefer to patronize an independent coffee shop or diner when I can, so that I know my money is staying in my community and benefiting my friends and neighbors.
There are several reasons why supporting local small businesses is so important for our communities:
1. When stores are kept in business, it keeps jobs in town. That might not seem too important to you if you live in Los Angeles or NYC, but in small-town America, every job counts. Believe me, I have seen it first-hand.
2. Money spent in your town in a local small business usually stays in town. It goes into the local bank, where it is loaned out to local residents, and it circulates within the local economy. Money spent at the big-box stores leaves town immediately and goes to the headquarters of said company, never to return to the local economy again. One 2004 study found that for every $100 spent at a local businesses, $68 remained in the community versus $43 for chain stores. That’s a big difference.
3. You get better customer service from small businesses. Have a problem with something you bought? Walk in and talk to the guy that sold you the product. Try getting someone to truly care at Target or Walmart!
4. It keeps your community alive. Instead of having a busy big-box store down the street and empty store-fronts lining your downtown, keeping local business owners “in business” keeps your town alive and kicking. If Taos, NM didn’t have a local economy, the town would not exist. Period. We had 1 Walmart and 1 Applebees there (other than fast crappy food); the rest were privately owned stores, restaurants, dry cleaners, coffee shops, etc. Starbucks? Yea right – thankfully we had 4 independent coffee shops selling great coffee to locals and tourists alike. Keeping the economy alive also helps with local events, which small businesses are more apt to sponsor and support. Big-boxes usually just take the money and run.
Supporting local businesses is a way of living mindfully and giving conscious thought to where you are spending your money and where it goes after it leaves your wallet. Sure, there are times when I need to pick up a few things at Target because I cannot get them at a small shop nearby, and that’s fine with me. It’s getting harder and harder to find Mom and Pop shops in big cities, but I do my best to try to support them. Besides, I like saying “hi” and knowing the face behind the counter.
Do you have a favorite small town store you frequent instead of just heading to the closest big-box store? Tell us about it!
(photo credit: Mike Cattell)