This week my Advanced Placement English Language and Composition students practiced writing a timed essay that required them to synthesize six short sources dealing with the locavore movement. (Locavores are people who get the majority of their foods from local sources.) As I read their essays debating the merits of purchasing locally-grown foods, I thought about how the buying local idea applies to all products and services. While I realize that it is not always possible to buy something made locally, when we do it helps our communities in many unseen ways.
For example, this weekend a nearby neighborhood is holding a craft fair on its greenbelt. The vendor fee is low – making it attractive to small businesses like mine – and half of the fee (along with funds from a raffle) goes to help a veteran with medical bills. So, the small amount of money I pay helps someone who has honorably served our country; helps the small business that is organizing the event, who will pay local employees and buy goods at local stores; helps the local economy through sales tax revenues generated by purchases; and helps the small business vendors who use the money gleaned to grow their businesses and pay for local goods and services.
The revenue is not the only impact local business have on our community. Studies have shown that small, independently owned operations contribute to social capital and civic engagement. Think about the craft festival again. It is a fundraising event to help someone within our community. Participating makes me feel good because it allows me to help a neighbor. It makes me feel like I am part of a larger community that cares about others. It doesn’t matter that I don’t personally know this man. His service is important to me, and this is one way I can show my appreciation. As a matter of fact, service (in general) is important within communities, and I don’t mean the kind that high school kids do just so they can get a seal on their diploma or put down hours on a college application. I mean the kind of service that requires a real commitment: service to your family, to your faith, to your students and schools, to your neighbors, to your country, etc. This kind of service comes from being an active community member. Small businesses are at the heart of that community contributing (according to some studies) as much as 250% more to non-profits than large businesses.
In addition, small businesses provide an interesting array of goods, frequently upcycling someone’s discards into something useful and artistic. When you purchase from an artist or a crafter, you are purchasing something unique and interesting – something you won’t see on every shelf in every big box store this season. This also adds to a sense of community because it draws attention to the diverse talents that our neighbors possess and (sometimes) pushes us to find our own latent aptitudes while maintaining a one-of-a-kind vibe in an increasingly homogenized world.
So next time the opportunity arises, take a look at that local shop on the corner, eat at the little mom and pop place down the street, or browse through a farmer’s market and craft fair for the ingredients to a great meal or for a great gift. You’ll be helping your corner of the world in a myriad of ways.
If you’d like to read more about the impact small businesses have on communities throughout North America, take a look at the summaries of studies put together by the Institute of Local Self-Reliance.