On (Not) Redefining “Shop Local”

C-Ville Weekly‘s cover story this week (an AAN wire story, incidentally) is about big business’ efforts to co-opt the term “local,” like they did “organic.” The definition that they’re going for is that any business that has a location in the vicinity is “local”—Wal-Mart is local to Charlottesville, in that they have a location here, while walmart.com is not. Never mind that Wal-Mart contributes basically nothing to the local economy, other than lousy wages, while a local business would likely hire a local attorney, accountant, cleaning service, etc., and its profits would go to the owner, who would presumably spend much of that money here, too. Economics consultant Civil Economics has found that of $100 spent at a chain, $13 will stay in the area, while $100 spent at a local store will leave $45 circulating in the local economy. (See their recent “Local Works!” study for more on this contrast.) The suggestion incorporated by the author—a proponent of supporting local businesses—is to describe them as “independent local businesses,” though presumably a business willing to bend the definition of “local” is also willing to do the same for “independent.”

When folks started pushing the idea of shopping local a decade ago, it was a tough sell. These days, with a rough economy, people get it. Maybe a better line is “buy stuff from people you know.” Maybe you’re getting a home built by your carpenter friend, or maybe you’re just buying a dozen eggs from your neighbor, but unless you’re friends with the Waltons, that should be a pretty good guide.

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