A Little Effort

localLocal business owners tend to fall pretty strictly into two categories: entrepreneurs who are building something and businesspersons who feel they are owed something for being a “small business.”

For the decade or so I worked for newspapers, I wrote multiple stories each week about how great the local business community was, and how important. But, as much as I wanted to be a patron to small, local businesses, I often found it impossible. I read too many of my own stories about “great service” and “competitive prices” and was, as a result, too often dismally disappointed.

Eventually, rather than trying to shop at 4:45 p.m. only to find a local business closed (or worse, about to close and obviously irritated at my patronage), I’d just grab what I needed from a box store; similarly for poor service, inconvenient hours, mediocre selection, etc. “Buy Local” took it’s rightful place next to “God Bless You” as something I’d say without thinking or meaning.

I continued leaning toward purchasing from locally owned and operated businesses, but would never inconvenience myself, which became a difficulty when it came to choosing a restaurant. I have a weird restaurant policy: I don’t eat at chains or tourist traps. As a result, there are very few places I’ll dine out, and most of them are a little too pricey to patronize regularly. In fact, most nights I plan to go out, I end up making dinner at home rather than pay for mediocre food purchased in bulk from Sam’s Club or even Sysco.

But, recently, I had an epiphany that allowed me to redouble my “Buy Local” efforts:

I am better than box stores.

This I don’t mean in as snobby a way as it might sound. Frankly, there aren’t such a thing as Big and Tall local men’s shops, whereas Wal*Mart loves and respects the needs of the obese. When it comes to wearables, Wal*Mart is a fat man’s only friend. (As an aside, the greatest thing about being thin would be shopping Goodwill, which is kind of a lame motivational slogan I use).

To continue: it is not because I have superior taste or sensibilities that I’m better than shopping at box stores (although I do). Rather, it is because I know better. And, in a world where not everyone knows better, there is a certain responsibility among those of us who do.

According to research done in Canada, local companies give five times as much as multinationals and recirculate twice as much of their income into the community. My original problem with the statement was that it was kind of obvious. There are many more small businesses than there are multinationals, and small business can’t really choose to circulate their money elsewhere.

But, they could have made a different choice, couldn’t they? They chose to open where they did for radically different reasons than did any chain or box store.

Big box stores are owned by large corporations, but the local McRestaurant is probably owned by a local businessman or local investor. There is no difference between Wal*Mart and franchisees–both look at a region to see what can be taken from it. These companies’ expansion models run on algorithms and funnel money out of the community. They choose communities where they know they will succeed.

It is the rare person who moves across the country to open a boutique, or a printing company, or even a tech or accounting firm. Entrepreneurs are driven to try and succeed within their communities, which is tougher than figuring out where, strategically, the next Starbucks is supposed to open.

Local entrepreneurs are more than businesspeople, they are driven by a vision for the towns in which they operate and deserve a little extra slack for their work. For those among us who understand how critical even a poorly run local business is to our community, regular patronage is something of a responsibility.

And don’t worry about the chain stores, there are plenty of less-advanced people who patronize them happily. Also, I’ll keep them in business until I learn to lay off the beer.

The Todcast is brought to you each week from the Burley Oak Brewery. In addition to the above rant, this week we provided a bit of social media criticism and discussed Burley Oak’s upcoming beer event. Take a listen:

 

Tony Russo
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Tony Russo has worked as a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century, writing for and editing regional weeklies, dailies and destination websites including OceanCity.com and ShoreCraftBeer.com. Tony has written two books on beer for the History Press. Eastern Shore Beer (2014) and Delaware Beer (2016). He lives in Delmar, Md. with his wife Kelly and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they keep their dog and cat comfortable.