Shopping locally matters to businesses, and to you

Bunch of Grapes owner Dawn Braasch. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

As 2011 ends and we’re faced with a new year full of possibilities, we reflect on what our challenges as a business community were in the past year and how we are going to answer those challenges and come through the next year stronger than before.

As the owner of a business that has been hit especially hard by several forces in the past few years, I have a unique set of challenges, but perhaps not as unique as I’d like to think. We’ve all been hit hard by the current economic downturn, and the internet continues to erode our business. Why fight traffic and parking and even the weather when you can sit at home in the comfort of your easy chair, wearing your pajamas, click a few buttons and order to your heart’s content? You’ll probably save a few bucks up front, and it will be delivered free to your front door within a day or two. So why bother shopping locally?

That is the greatest challenge I see facing independent local businesses – educating our customers about why shopping locally matters.

We’ve done a great job on this Island educating people about why buying and eating locally grown food matters. Now it’s time to mount a strong buy local campaign for other goods and services as well. We are willing to pay more for good food. Why aren’t we willing to pay our local, independent businesses a little more for their products, understanding that it costs more to bring that product to the Island, more to heat our businesses, etc.

And are we really saving money when we buy online or go off-Island to buy from retailers who aren’t in our community, who have no vested interest in our community, who often don’t pay sales tax in our community? The perception is that we save money, when really it costs us money down the line. So we must change that perception.

I’m hoping the trend has begun to shift back to buying local, but if you are resisting that trend or unsure of why it’s important, I’ll give you my top ten reasons why:

For every $100 spent in a local business, $68 stays in your community, compared to shopping at a chain store, where only $43 stays in the community.

You’ve embraced what makes us unique. We love that we have no big box stores on the Island, no fast food chains. Why then would we choose to head off-Island and shop at one?

You’ve created local jobs. I have employees who have been with the store for many years, as do many other local businesses. Jobs are hard to come by, and we don’t need lose any.

You’ve helped the environment.

You’ve nurtured our community. Studies have shown that local businesses contribute to community causes at more than twice the rate of chains.

You’ve conserved your tax dollars. Spending locally instead of online ensures that your sales tax dollars are reinvested where they belong – in your community. Some online retailers have built a business plan around avoiding paying sales tax in your state.

You’ve created more choices. We pick items based on what you want, what you’ve communicated to us you need. We certainly need to be better at choosing for the year-round customer and not just summer tourists, but we’re aware of this and we’re working on it. We like to think of ourselves as curators. Surely we don’t want someone in Washington State choosing what we read, or someone in New York choosing what we’re going to wear, do we?

You’ve taken advantage of our expertise as local business owners. All I do is sell books, with a few book-related gift items. Most small, independent business owners sell specific items, and most of us, if not all, are passionate about what we do. I challenge you to find that in a box store or online.

You’ve invested in entrepreneurship, which is what our American economy is founded upon. As president of the Tisbury Business Association, I love talking to other business owners in Tisbury and Island-wide, who are still, even in the face of a tough economy, full of ideas about their next project, or what they’re going to do to make their businesses better. Their determination not to give up is often what keeps me going.

You’ve made us a destination. We are a tourist based economy, and the more interesting and unique we are, the more we’ll attract visitors and guests.

Living on this beautiful Island, and making a living here, are often extremely challenging. Sometimes my off-Island friends ask me why I choose to stay in the face of such economic uncertainty. That is something that is hard for me to put into words. The sheer beauty of the place always takes my breath away. The sense of community is unlike any place I’ve ever lived, and I’ve lived all over this great country. If you doubt that, just watch the next time someone is sick and hurting. Watch the wagons circle to help.

Ultimately, it is the experience of living here that is so good – the quality of life. The challenge for the business community, as I see it, is to offer our customers that same quality in every shopping experience, to help them know it is in their best interest to keep us around. Because ultimately, isn’t that what suffers when we shop online or at chain stores? Isn’t it the quality of the experience that is diminished? Do we really want to trade living in the real world for the virtual world?