Saturday, December 12, 2015

This Holiday Season, Buy Local

Entering Adirondack ParkBuy local. It’s much more than a feel-good slogan or here-today-gone-tomorrow topic currently trending on Facebook or Twitter. Let’s face it, the choice we have as consumers – this holiday season and throughout the year – is to either support small, family-run businesses, local artisans and craftspeople or help some fat-cat one-percenter.

We can help our friends and neighbors make ends meet or send a child to college, soccer camp, piano or dance lessons, or we can help a CEO buy another yacht, sports car, or vacation home.

Think about it. Consider the impact we could have on local economies and the environment if we all shifted just $100 of the money we’re spending on gifts, Christmas trees, decorations, and meals (both at home and in restaurants) this holiday season, from big box stores and businesses owned by multi-national corporations beholden only to their stockholders, to locally-owned small businesses, farmers, and self-employed artisans and craftspeople.

You may not find a local manufacturer of mobile devices or apps, but if you’re in the market for a good bottle of wine, craft beers, beautiful jewelry, a masterfully constructed dining room set or shelving unit, an Adirondack chair, a hand crafted magazine stand or coat rack, sturdy wooden toys, a hand-painted wall-hanging, unique pottery, a rustic lamp, a picture frame (with or without the picture), whimsical knickknacks, a handmade quilt, sweater, or blanket, delicious artisan foodstuffs (maple syrup or cream, honey, jams, jellies, baked goods, spices), books, candles, or floral arrangements and centerpieces, a locally made, small business purchase is clearly a great option.

How and where we choose to spend our hard earned dollars can dictate whether we strengthen our local economies, giving rise to more prosperous communities, or curtail opportunities for small business growth and development.

When we buy from big box stores and superstores, we purchase imported, foreign-made products. These are at times manufactured with child labor under inhumane working conditions. And, once our hard-earned dollars are spent, the profits go to a corporate headquarters in a place we can’t even pronounce, where it sits in an overseas tax shelter; never to be seen in the local economy again.

What’s more, chain stores are always enormous, featureless buildings (that’s why they’re called ‘big box’ stores) with sprawling parking lots. And far too often, they move out or go out of business in time, after which the buildings are left to fall into disrepair. The become gigantic eyesores, unpleasing to local residents and tourists alike. Or worse, taxpayer liabilities.

By contrast, buying from local small-businesspersons supports homegrown industry and community. It says that we recognize that buying locally, from the little guy, creates an environment where economic development can blossom and grow, and where products are sourced from local artists and crafts-makers, or regional manufacturers and distributors.

The importance of entrepreneurship and home-based small-business development in stabilizing and revitalizing struggling communities cannot be overstated. Entrepreneurship fuels economic innovation and prosperity and unique small, local businesses are a mark of distinction that gives a town, village, or city its character; making it more desirable, not only to inhabitants, but to tourists and visitors who benefit from a more interesting and memorable experience.

Unfortunately, officials and representatives at every level of government are easily won over by the promise of jobs and tax revenues. So, they often provide out-of-state and multinational-owned chain store and superstore businesses (who already have more than enough inequitable laws working in their favor) tax breaks, regulatory breaks, and subsidies worth millions of dollars.

Ironically, the proprietors of local businesses see their tax dollars being used to boost their biggest competitors; conglomerates that don’t have roots in the communities they serve and that are far and away more concerned with corporate profits than how their decisions impact the lives of the local community.

A more prudent and evenhanded way for struggling communities to support economic development would be to invest in infrastructure, education, and other community assets that are broadly beneficial to a wide variety of businesses and potential entrepreneurs.

Hard-working small business people are often expressly focused on their community, and almost always trying to find a balance between work and family. They’re often exceedingly generous; funding school youth teams and events and giving to local charities that feed and shelter indigent families, educate children, protect victims of domestic violence and exploitation, and rescue unwanted animals. But they can’t support your community without your patronage.

The argument I most often hear is, “What about prices? The big box stores have lower prices.” And that’s clearly why they attract consumers. Hey, I love a bargain! But you can buy gifts from local artisans and entrepreneurs without spending more money. Just buy less. Instead of buying dozens of poor-quality, worthless gifts and throwaway decorations, why not buy one or two unique, well-made, thoughtful gifts or heirloom-quality decorations from local artisans or entrepreneurs instead.

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Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.

8 Responses

  1. Tom says:

    Couldn’t agree more! Buy local, buy handmade, buy quality, buy unique, support small business! The satisfaction you will feel is well worth the small extra cost! Thank you

  2. Bruce says:

    “When we buy from big box stores and superstores, we purchase imported, foreign-made products.” –

    Not always. And many of the local Adirondack businesses sell the same stuff, usually at higher prices. Witness the millions of cheap, plastic “adirondack chairs” available almost anywhere you go.

    We’ve been coming to the Adirondacks on vacation annually for the last 11 years or so, and have a pretty good idea of what’s available in nearly every store from Old Forge to Saranac Lake. Imagine purchasing a stuffed Loon for a child at a locally owned and operated business, or a Native American Mandela or Dream Catcher, and it says “made in China.” And there’s a good chance that bottle of wine was not even made in New York although it could be.

    “Buy local” means different things to different people. And while the “box stores” may be owned by multinational corporations, they are usually managed and staffed by local folks trying to make a living. Shouldn’t they be supported too?

  3. kathy says:

    My friend Helen and I have been coming up to Old Forge for an overnite stay to see a movie,shop all the stores and eat in our favorite places. This trip is when I buy 90 % of my Christmas gifts. Not being a mall person or a shopper this is a great way for me to join with my friend in a tradition we both look forward to every year (? 13-14 years so far).

  4. MOFYC says:

    Would’ve been a more useful article if it offered readers some examples of great locally-owned places in the Park to do their Christmas shopping.

    • Tom says:

      Gallery 3040, or Starving Artist Gallery Main St, Old Forge, or any of a number of their neighboring stores.

    • Bruce says:

      If you start in Old Forge and manage to shop that place out, just head north on 28. The hamlets between Old Forge and Long Lake will likely have something to trip your gift-buying fancy. And a few decent little places catering to locals to eat, too.

  5. Wally Elton says:

    Everywhere is local for somebody. When traveling, I like to purchase future gifts at local businesses, especially those that are locally-owned and selling locally made or grown items, supporting local crafters, etc. The bonus is that when the holidays arrive, I already have much of the shopping done.

  6. Bruce says:

    What exactly does “buy local” mean? Is it about local folks making a living? If so, then any business, whether it’s a high end boutique owned and operated by someone who lives here, or a box store providing numbers of jobs for local people qualifies.

    If it’s about buying high end goods from local businesses, which seems rather narrow minded, then the whole “buy local” thing is little more than a slogan, intended to make some people feel good.

    As I pointed out earlier, even the local shops sell cheap, imported goods, so it can’t be about that class of product.

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