March 25, 2013 by susanyvivi
Buy local! We keep hearing this everywhere. The ‘buy local’ movement has reached mainstream. Like ‘eco’ or ‘green building’, it has become a slogan, even a fashion statement.
When I was working as an architect in Seattle, I was surprised to see how many big projects got Leed certification. This certification consists of a suite of rating systems for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. Sometimes, with just a green roof and a few other green solutions, structures become ‘green buildings’. On the other hand, we can say that they are introducing something good, however incremental.
One time, during a discussion course session from the Canadian Earth Institute on “Choices for Sustainable Living”, I heard something that stuck in my mind forever: “There is a big distance between 0% recycling action and 100% recycling, and you can be on any part of this path. Every step is important, as long as you are on the path.” So, no judgements.
Taking action on recycling, small footprint, climate change or sustainability is hard work, because we don’t see immediate results. However, when talking about buying local, it is a little different. The effect is direct. We can see it. But, are we aware? How much do we follow it, or do we simply repeat the slogan as a gesture of good intentions? ‘Progressive’ people don’t necessarily shop locally. How many of us still go to the big box chain stores, from Wal-Mart to Costco because, well…..it is cheaper, it is convenient, whatever.
Now back to reasons: why is ‘buying local’ deeper than just the feeling that you are helping a neighbour? As Amy Cortese said in her book, Localvesting: the Revolution in Local Investment, “For one, local business owners are more than business managers; they are residents and neighbours who have a reputation and a stake in the community. Their kids go to the same schools as the children of their customers and employees, and they rely on the same municipal and state services.
Independent, local companies are also good for local business. When they need supplies or services, whether construction, web design, accounting and legal services, cleaning, or catering, they typically use local providers, thereby creating or supporting more jobs in the area.
The local businesses are also the mainstay of local advertising, helping to keep alive a vibrant local media that covers issues and politics of interest for the community. In an age of corporate media consolidation, that can mean the difference between cookie-cutter content and programming, to useful, on the ground news. So different from what typical corporations and chain stores do: purchasing, advertising, and charitable giving are decided by centralized headquarters. Their money goes outside to suppliers, national venues and national and international charitable organizations.”
I asked RO advertisers to comment on this topic. David Evans from The Stick in the Mud is proud and happy of how it works for him. “The Stick features art on our walls by local artists with the curatorial duties performed by Elizabeth Tanner of South Shore Gallery. We have seasonal knit-wares made locally, gloves, toques, scarves. We use only local, free range eggs in all of our baking. We source local produce when possible and practical. Our coffee grounds and compost are used by local farmers, nearly 50 lbs per day. Our bulletin board is for the exclusive use of local art, entertainment and cultural events. We feature at least 3 local publications in the shop. When asked we make space for locally made products on our shelves. We support local charities and causes virtually without exception, we sponsor events and teams throughout the year and we are a venue for selling tickets to many local concerts, events and fundraisers. Our coffee is served at a number of locations between East Sooke and Port Renfrew including The Smokin Tuna, 17 Mile Pub, The Lazy Gecko, MaiMai’s, Markus’, Point No Point, Déjà-Vu at the Breakers in Jordan River, Tomi’s in Port Renfrew. The Stick’s coffee is also served in local offices. We’re trying to move into venues further a field.” And Jim Craven of James R. Craven and Associates commented, “We have purchased all our appliances from Home Hardware in Sooke for about 20 years. Their prices line up well with what is available elsewhere. 90 percent of our groceries are purchased in Sooke and we find combining a shopping trip three times a week to the hardware, grocery and drug store with a walk on the Spit with the dog followed by a nice lunch makes for a very satisfactory outing for all three of us. It puzzles me how much zeal can be mustered up to run off to a big box store.
Many of these international monsters have gutted small towns everywhere in North America. They have turned shop owners into poorly paid overworked line managers with no participation in their business, which has died on the vine after they come into town. That is not my version of Canada or the USA. These monsters support no local events and when you have difficulty with a product they hand you a website address in Nebraska, Ontario, India or Thailand if you want someone to fix it.
Obviously big box shoppers have never asked themselves why they want to make the Wal-Mart family the richest individuals in the USA at the expense of the small business neighbour in your own town. Just why is it that they have no desire to keep the local merchant in a state of equilibrium, choosing to forget their neighbour for a few bucks that gets pretty small once you honestly account for gas, wear and tear on the car, and the value of your time. We were away in the US when a freezer failed that we had purchased from Sooke Home Hardware with the food ruined inside as a result. They provided complete refunds and came out free of charge to pick up the defunct freezer.
I could give many examples of the care and excellence provided by the staff of the Stone Pipe, Sooke Harbour House, the drug stores, grocery store and all the others from the bike shop to the video stores and the barber shops. That is what makes the fabric of community.
There is no doubt that a healthy local economy with community-rooted businesses of all kinds creates balance, quality of living, civic engagement and a sense of place and identity. Let’s support our rural communities by buying local, using the local services, shopping at the corner store and locally owned businesses in Sooke, where we will get the connections, chats and encounters that we need as social beings. All these casual interactions are more than a friendly diversion. They are essential for building the relationships and civic bonds that make for a healthy, well-functioning and happy society.