As we plan for 2017, Triad Local First has been thinking more than ever about the importance of supporting locally owned businesses in this community.
Throughout the holiday season, which, these days, begins before Halloween, many rushed to the big-box stores and Amazon to do most, if not all, of their holiday shopping. Online shopping is at an all-time high and will continue to rise, causing stress on locally owned businesses as they struggle to compete in an international marketplace.
The Triad is home to many small businesses that offer superior customer service and one-of-a-kind purchases. There are also gift sales held in galleries, collectives, and even the Greensboro Farmer’s Curb Market, offering beautiful, hand-made items from talented artists and artisans who live in our community. But the disturbing truth is that without our support, these shopping options will disappear, crushed by the trend of “clicking” to buy cheaper, online goods (mostly from Amazon) that can be delivered to the doorstep.
A News & Record story published online last month quoted a tech company executive who is thrilled over growing online sales, saying “the excitement for online doesn’t mean brick-and-mortar stores are being threatened.” This couldn’t be further from the truth! Brick-and-mortar retailers are facing the toughest challenges in history in an effort to survive.
One basic problem is the lack of understanding about the importance of buying local. Studies have shown that when consumers buy from an independent, locally owned business, more money stays in the community, which in turn, strengthens the economy. For every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $60 stays in the community. If that same $100 is spent at a big-box chain store, $43 stays in the community. If that $100 is spent on Amazon, in most cases no money stays in the community and no taxes are collected on that sale.
Plus, most independent business owners purchase goods from other local businesses, service providers and farms, adding more to the tax base of their own communities.
Another positive impact of local independent businesses is that nonprofit organizations receive on average 250 percent more support from smaller business owners than they do from large businesses. The Triad’s non-profits have been successful in part because of the generosity and support of local small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Do we want to look like many other communities in the country, with generic chains and franchises lining their main streets and adding to the sprawl in their suburbs? The Triad has a unique and distinctive character to call its own. One-of-a-kind businesses are an integral part of this character, which helps make our community “home.” This is also an important factor in attracting tourism. Tourists generally want to visit places that have unique histories, foodways and cultural offerings. They want to visit vibrant shops and restaurants for a memorable experience.
Locally owned businesses are also better for the environment. They can make more local purchases requiring less transportation, which reduces the carbon footprint in our community. Restaurants that support local farmers, for instance, provide better, fresher and more sustainable food products to their consumers than food that has been flown or shipped from far away.
Nationwide, small local businesses are the largest private source of new employment, providing locals with jobs. And locally owned businesses are more invested in the community’s future.
Nationally marketed products do not take into consideration the particular needs and interests of local customers. Local stores provide a more accurate range of products that the local residents actually want and need. Smaller stores often hire people with a better understanding of the products they are selling, and get to know their customers and provide better customer service.
And now we see a trend of Internet retailers opening local retail shops. We do not need an Amazon grocery and an Amazon bookstore in our community! The newly launched Amazon grocery store concept will put an additional burden on local grocers who have worked to provide foods from nearby farms and to give top-notch customer service in our communities. At some point, we have to weigh convenience versus community. Do we really want to buy mass-produced food from an Amazon stall or support the local farmers and eat food that is recently harvested and freshly prepared?
As we do more online shopping, we miss opportunities to connect with others in our community. Over the recent holidays, shopping locally gave us opportunities to see old friends, buy hand-made gifts, support local artists, sip cider and swap stories about kids, dogs and the promise of a new year. And because shopping local is something to enjoy year-round, we are getting back to our localist routines of checking in on locally owned shops and restaurants and service providers. Most of them are doing everything possible to put their customers first, against endless competition from the giants who would like to control every aspect of our lives as consumers.
It’s a tumultuous time in the United States right now and things can seem overwhelming. Supporting our local community is a good way to keep our economy strong and our neighbors connected.
For a directory of locally owned businesses in the Triad, go to our website at www.triadlocalfirst.com
Luck Gambrell Davidson is executive director and Mary Lacklen is board chair, Triad Local First.