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.
13 thoughts on “On (Not) Redefining “Shop Local””
Much of this depends how big of a tribe you think you are in. The “buy american” efforts of the past were one version of a larger local mentality. I’m into buying locally but my guess is that many of us are glad that people afar are willing to do business with our local businesses, so it cuts both ways.
“Locally-owned businesses” is the term that is most accurate. Or maybe “locally-owned independent businesses.”
“Shopping local” could mean that people in Charlottesville shop at the Wal_Mart here instead of going over to the one in Waynesboro. Or shop at chains in Fashion Square or Barracks Road instead of driving to Short Pump or Tysons’ Corner.
These lines get so blurred.
Of course, franchises are technically locally-owned, and some national franchises are shifting now (in response to people’s wishes) to pass more autonomy to the local owner and require less standardization from the headquarters. On the other side, it’s hard to know what independent is if some local businesses are held to requirements by a distributor, financial institution, or some sort of larger association. “Buy from someone you know” is a pretty good way to go. Or simply buy from a place you believe makes the entire community a slightly better rather than slightly worse place to live.
Nonsense. Unless you’re buying product built from local raw goods, even “Mom” and “Pop” get their wares from somewhere. So the $50-less-profit goes to some out of state supplier/wholesaler, the rest goes to Mom and Pop’s pockets, light bills, taxes, and employees. Walmart pays those too, but the margin is thinner. Their employees are local.
If you guys want to return to Jamestown circa 1608, go ahead. I have no qualms with paying someone from Arkansas, and hope to sell to the same.
Don’t listen to this podcast, you’ll flip out: http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2009/06/platt_on_workin.html
In general I go along with the “buy local” mindset, but there is such a thing as buy-local fundamentalism that is as reductive as any fundamentalism. Certainly it’s not *always* better to “buy local” (however defined) from either an economic, environmental, or ethical point of view. I’d rather shop at a national or regional grocery store than a locally owned store that violated health codes or mistreated workers. (I’m not aware of any such in C’ville; it’s a hypothetical example.) I’d rather buy produce coming from a responsible grower a couple of states away than from a local farmer who dumps toxins into the Moormans River. (Likewise hypothetical.)
I’m not sure who you’re disagreeing with here.
As I wrote, Mom and Pop also pay an accountant, an attorney, a cleaning service, a bookkeeper, a sign painter, an office supply store, etc., etc. They almost certainly pay better wages, too. As repeated studies have made clear, far more money remains in the economy when spending money at a locally-owned business than spending your money at a chain. There’s really no debating that.
But, again, just buy stuff from your friends. If you’re making goat cheese, and your buddies are buying their goat cheese from Kroger, aren’t you going to be offended? Wouldn’t you hope that your friends would support your livelihood—insofar as they require the product you’re selling—rather than those of a perfect stranger? So long as one doesn’t become the sort of fundamentalist that David describes, this practice of supporting your friends and neighbors is one that will benefit everybody.
The federal government has spent a lot of money on transportation in VA than it has in Arkansas. So is anyone saying we can take money from Arkansas but we shouldn’t spend money there?
The money I save at Wal-Mart allows me to be able to eat out locally.
You fine folks should watch both of these documentaries available from Netflix and then see if you still want to shop at Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club. There are many other plain sense conversations and discussions available on the Internet as well…
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price(2005) NR
Filmmaker Robert Greenwald takes aim at the corporate giant that’s come to symbolize big business in America — Wal-Mart — blasting the box-store Goliath for allegedly paying substandard wages, skimping on employee benefits and gutting communities. This hard-hitting, emotional documentary profiles the struggle of everyday folks from around the country who’ve committed themselves to fighting the mega-retailer.
Is Wal-Mart Good for America?: Frontline(2004) NR
This PBS series dares to pose a question: Is one of America’s biggest corporations actually ruining the economy? Marching across the nation, the big-box chain brings jobs and much-needed retail options to many towns. But, as a major purveyor of goods, the company’s also hacked away at manufacturing jobs stateside, since the bulk of its products are made in China. Here, “Frontline” examines two cities profoundly affected by the Wal-Mart movement.
Other Wal-Mart informative links…
“…blasting the box-store Goliath for allegedly paying substandard wages, skimping on employee benefits and gutting communities.” Gutted, as in disembowled?
“This PBS series dares to pose a question: Is one of America’s biggest corporations actually ruining the economy? ” Did they interview GM?
No, I don’t waste my time listening to slanted journalism, except for Bill Moyers.
A friend of mine has started an online site to make it easier to really “Buy Local”
They have a lot of different fresh vegetables, meats, and cheeses from local (Albemarle & Augusta County) farmers as well as products from a bunch of different local merchants (Rebecca’s Natural Food, Reid’s, Foods of All Nations, Feast etc)
You buy the stuff through their website, they consolidate the orders and bring them to a pickup spot. They have pretty much anything that you could get at a supermarket – but all through local sources. And, you don’t have to run around to all the different stores to buy local; you just go to one pickup spot.
Anyway, sorry if this sounds like an ad – I’m just pretty excited about the business.
If they are capable of doing the same thing that the new group that was looking for County money to do, wouldn’t the County be giving the applicant an unfair advantage in the market place? That’s why the applicant should be made to go through the budget review process so that they can be vetted as others are who request tax payers’ money.
I particularly like the potential of retailrelay.com because I can think of a number of elderly and handicapped people who no longer feel they can drive on 29N, can run downtown to Water Street quickly and easily.
Hey, even if it is, there’s nothing wrong with folks promoting a business here in the course of participating in a relevant discussion.
What I find ironic is that the cover story of the “local” paper isn’t local. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they appreciate the Hook and C-Ville for at least being “local” papers, in contrast to the Progress, which these days is largely stocked with syndicated material.
I’m not blindly against syndicated content. This was just a particularly ironic example.
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