If you’ve got shopping to do, the national “big-box” and ecommerce retailers can seem like an appealing option. They’re often located close to the Interstate. With huge advertising budgets, they bombard us with tantalizing deals and “doorbuster specials.” And in the Internet era it’s easier than ever to make purchases with a few clicks on a laptop or smartphone.
But whatever the advantages, we don’t always realize the hidden costs of online and big box stores — among them the squeeze they put on our local, independently-owned businesses.
There’s much to be said for investing our dollars in local businesses. Foremost, it boosts your hometown economy and keeps members of your community in jobs. Money spent at local shops and restaurants tends to remain in local circulation. A recent study estimated that 48 cents of every dollar spent at a local business stays within that community, compared to just 14 cents spent at big box giants.
Local businesses strengthen your community. They sponsor little league teams, partner with local schools and participate in community events. One recent report concluded that nonprofits and charities receive more than twice as much support from small and local businesses as they do from large chains.
Through advertisements, local businesses support the community newspaper you’re reading now, helping to bring your community a vital source of local information. Read the advertisements to get an idea of local businesses conveniently located near you.
Local businesses pay taxes. This is important because a broader revenue base in your town or county generally means a lower financial burden on ordinary taxpayers. (By contrast, a lot of the big chain stores negotiate tax exemptions from local governments… exemptions which ultimately increase the tax burden on the rest of us.)
Local merchants value your business. With much smaller profit margins and less room for error, they tend to appreciate each customer — and to show it by being friendlier and offering better customer service than the big-box chains.
The success of local businesses is linked to the well-being of the local community. Even if it’s not always feasible to do all of our spending locally, we would benefit the community by making an effort to spread our spending around and shopping local whenever possible.
Small, local, independently-owned companies are run by people working to build their own piece of the American dream. Some have invested their life savings into their business. But many face uncertainty about the future – especially now, as online giants grapple to dominate the retail market and try to elbow small competitors out of the way.
Even a modest shift in our individual spending habits can help balance the scale for the “little guys.” With that in mind, here are a few additional suggestions:
1. If you dine out frequently, make an extra effort to visit smaller, family-run establishments. It’s a proven fact that some of the best-tasting food can be found at these “mom-and-pop” restaurants.
One of my favorite places to eat is a chicken restaurant called Bernie’s. I know the cooks and cashiers by name, and they know me. And the food is delicious.
2. Shopping the “little guys” can be a great way to network. If you’re trying to drum up a little business of your own, make it a point to patronize locally-owned businesses. Introduce yourself to the owner or manager when you shop. Leave a business card if you have one. They’ll often remember and reciprocate if they can.
3. If you have a good experience with a local business, tell your friends and neighbors. Share it on social media. An endorsement from a personal friend or acquaintance goes a long way.
Now more than ever, local businesses need your support. They work hard for it and deserve it. And your community — and your own quality of life — will benefit from it.
Richard Eckstrom is a CPA and the state’s Comptroller.