Most Friday mornings, we walk the few blocks into town for breakfast at the diner. Old trees, mostly ragged Silver Maples, fill the tree lawns that front the even older homes in the historic district. Enroute, we stop to pet the aging yellow lab sunning herself in someone’s front yard — she starts wagging her tail when she sees us coming from the end of the block. We say hello and call by name the several cats we encounter, as well as the few other people moving about at that time. As Mister Rogers used to say, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!”
It has always seemed more logical, more neighborly, to use local businesses whenever you can. I mean, these people are your neighbors, so why wouldn’t you patronize them? Sure, you can drive over to the big mall or strip center and shop at franchise and nationally-owned stores, and maybe that’s appropriate for some goods and services, but still it is kind of a soulless experience. The local hardware store doesn’t always have everything I need, but one of the sales people will be able to help me figure out what I need and how to use it. For really knotty homecare problems, they may have to get the old guy from the basement to explain it to all of us. In addition, after a while you get to know those guys and they get your level of expertise. I frequently see them about town. They have a local investment, as do I.
I think that’s what neighborhood may mean — you have some ownership of the place. It’s not just owning a house or a business, it’s being a part of a place and its people. The local experience can be interesting. You get to speak to people you may not know, but recognize as locals. You can frequent the same places and be greeted by people that know you. The homeless street guy on his favorite perch in the sun doesn’t panhandle us any more — he knows we’ll say hello, but don’t make donations.
And you have an investment in how the place works. You can influence local decisions more easily than you can regional, statewide or national ones. We visit with the waitress or owner at our favorite bar/restaurant and comment on the menu, the music they play, the games they show on the TV and the quality of the live music. We’re regulars, and that gives us some recognition. It also helps with issues before the city council or other local government entities, including city staff.
Beyond that, supporting local endeavors can be fun. Our local Saturday farmer’s market teems with people and dogs, has live music and a wide variety of wares to scrutinize. On a nice summer day, you can mingle with your neighbors, people-watch to your heart’s content, try some exotic flavors offered by visiting food trucks, and get some of the freshest fruits and vegetables for the week’s meals.
Dan Nosowitz reported on a new study from UC Davis about the impact of buying directly from farmers through farmer’s markets or community supported agriculture. Benefits included:
“… higher quality produce, faster delivery times, supporting small farmers.” In addition, “the conclusion is decisive: Buying directly from farmers has a disproportionately large impact on the local economy … At its core, the study found that a dollar spent buying directly from a farmer has about twice the impact on the local economy as spending a dollar on food that goes through a middleman — a supermarket, for example. There are all kinds of reasons for that: Farmers who sell directly to consumers tend to buy more supplies locally, which can benefit seed and equipment sellers in the area; and they also tend to hire more local labor, which in turn benefits the community.”
But the concept is not limited to farmers. Almost any local business provides many of the same benefits to the local economy and community. Economists estimate that the impact of a single job can result in a factor of 2 to 2.5 other jobs. Every paid employee is an additional consumer that impacts other local businesses. If you patronize local businesses, you support not only the business itself, but their employees, which in turn support other businesses.
Each business and resident pays directly or indirectly into local property taxes and each business pays other local taxes of some sort. So, buying locally provides revenue to not just the business, but to your local government as well. Taxes give them money to spend on the services that you receive, including streets, utilities, security, public spaces, schools, planning and many others. (I note that government’s role is to provide services that are not market-driven. Sure, sometimes they appear to compete with commercial enterprises, but all kinds of services would not be viable or fairly administered if only market-driven.) As a result, patronizing local businesses helps to keep your taxes lower.
Benefits to local government and businesses improve the livability and viability of the community. It becomes or remains a place where people want to live and conduct the business of their daily lives, which in turn results in more sustainability for people and businesses. Neighborhood becomes synonymous with community.
Per Mr. Rogers, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the neighborhood! Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Dan Nosowitz , Another Reason to Buy Directly From Farmers: You Could Help the Local Economy More, July 28, 2016, Modern Farmer