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Shopping local is always better

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By Joe Yates

My daughter announced recently that she aspires, some day, to live ‘off of the grid.’ But until she gets there, she will take small baby steps toward her objective. For example, this Christmas is to be the first in which her gift-giving becomes simple, low-tech, and locally sourced. To the extent that her long-term ambition is based upon a desire to refrain from exploiting others and wasting precious resources—refusing to buy meat from factory farms, buying clothes that are not produced in overseas sweatshops—it is an admirable objective. Her more immediate plan—a ‘local’ Christmas—is just fine with dad, too.

Is local better? It’s a no-brainer. Let me count the ways.

Studies show that locally owned businesses recycle a much larger share of their gross receipts back into a local economy compared to corporately owned chain stores. A recent study of Louisville-area businesses, sponsored in part by the Louisville Independent Business Alliance (more on this group below), shows that for every $100 spent at a locally owned independent business, $55 is reinvested locally whereas only $14 is reinvested when that same money is spent at a national chain.

Smaller, independent businesses are more likely to be owned by our neighbors, who have a much greater stake in our community’s future and its economic well-being.

These types of businesses build strong communities by sustaining active towns that connect people economically and socially.

In a world where more cookie-cutter chain stores pop up every day, neighborhoods that strive to preserve their unique characteristics should be encouraged. Our sense of community is defined in large part by the aesthetics and placement of our local businesses. I’m not promoting busy sidewalks and pedestrian friendly storefronts because I have some vague, nostalgic memory of them.

If our old buildings are reused, very little new infrastructure is needed. It is also a more efficient use of our public services than putting up another pre-fabricated big box.

Local stores help create and maintain compact, walkable communities and, although it may be too late here, might lessen our use of the almighty automobile that would —is it really necessary to talk about why using one’s car a little less is actually a good thing?

Last Saturday, Nov. 30 was ‘Small Business Day.’ This annual event seeks to promote and support local, independent businesses. This quote is directly from the Small Business Day website, “They’re the corner stores that create jobs. The hardware stores that help build our economy. And the mom and pop shops whose very presence makes a neighborhood, your neighborhood.”

In Louisville, Mayor Fischer helped kick off a ‘Shift Your Shopping Contest’ wherein folks who collect receipts from at least five businesses—businesses that are members of the Louisville Independent Business Alliance—become eligible to win $1,000 in a drawing. I’ll also quote, if I may, the director of the LIBA, “The Small Business Saturday campaign and the Shift Your Shopping Contest are aimed at contrasting the typical Black Friday shopping frenzy with a neighborly, community-minded approach to thoughtful gift giving.”

But when I try to apply these ‘shop local’ values to my home community, something in the back of my mind keeps nagging me.

Oddly, the website for Small Business Day was sponsored by American Express. American Express is a very large corporation. Louisville is one of the biggest cities in the country, and I’ve never heard of Black Friday shopping in Pleasureville.

So, what was bugging me was how, exactly, does one ‘shop local’ in Henry County, Kentucky? How many locally owned retail establishments remain here?

Over the past several days, I took the time to ask a few of our local business people, “How do you get local people to shop here?” I have paraphrased the response that stands out the most, “I’ve heard people complain—in fact, people who I know for a fact drive to WalMart at least twice a week —that nothing ever goes on around here.” This statement, I think, speaks volumes.

But I’d like to know what you think. Is the horse already out of the barn? Would you like to see more locally owned businesses here? If so, how could we accomplish this?