Community, character and generosity are just a few words that describe the spirit of this incredible place we call home. Friends and colleagues regularly express words of appreciation and gratitude, and constantly reaffirm how blessed we are to live here. But more than just luck, it’s also a conscious choice and personal commitment to make it work living in a tight-knit, rural community.
We are drawn to this landscape for a variety of reasons. For many, it’s the scenery and easy access to quality outdoor adventures, unique individuals and neighbors looking out for one another, or simply the charm and sense of community that makes La Plata County home. An often-overlooked yet vital component is our willingness to support and preserve our locally owned, independent businesses.
Increasingly, this is a rarity across our nation for both small towns and big cities alike. Countless communities are experiencing a loss of character and sense of place because of the influx of superstores, online shopping, and people constantly seeking the cheapest price with no regard for people’s safety, jobs or the environment. These behaviors negatively affect small businesses, residents and the fundamental values necessary for a thriving, sustainable community.
National chains and online mega-stores continue to gain market share, thanks to the support of national or international branding power and major economies of scale. Independent businesses are pushed to the margins in many sectors, comprising a smaller portion of our economy than ever before. If we allow this trend to continue, we’ll lose much more than places to shop, dine or do business – we’ll lose our sense of community and encompassing values.
Frequently in conversations someone poses to me “Does it really matter if I buy it locally or not?” And my answer is “absolutely it does,” and here are a few reasons why:
Locally owned independent businesses create jobs and provide sustainable income for residents, including local architects, designers, sign makers and contractors, accountants, insurance agents, attorneys and computer consultants. Dollars kept and recirculated at community-based merchants create a multiplier effect for the economy. Each dollar spent at a local independent business generates up to 3.5 times more wealth back in the local economy.
Shifting local purchasing to independent businesses is key in creating local jobs. If each of us were to shift just 10 percent of our existing household purchases from non-local businesses to locally owned independent businesses, we would create millions of dollars in new economic activity and hundreds of new jobs.
Maintaining community character
This is a big one folks, so pay close attention, and read it twice if you have to! Ask any local what his or her favorite restaurant, coffee shop or bookstore is and more than likely the answer will be a locally owned independent business. Where we shop, eat and hang out makes our neighborhood home, defines our individuality, and creates a sense of place. In an increasingly homogenized world, communities like ours that preserve one-of-a-kind businesses and distinct character clearly have an economic advantage. If we wanted to live somewhere that looked like everywhere else, we wouldn’t be living in La Plata County, nor would we draw throngs of visitors and national media attention for being who we are.
Choice and diversity
Local business owners know their customers. They spend countless hours reviewing and handpicking products based on their customers’ individual interests and unique tastes. They are not dictated to from a national sales plan determined by some faceless corporation headquartered hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
Fact: Local businesses are more likely to support one another by sourcing goods and services from inside the local community, rather than sending money outside to a parent company in another city or state. That requires investment, entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to the long-term health of our community.
Vested in the community
Local business owners are naturally vested in the well being of our community. These entrepreneurs typically invest their life savings in their businesses, and directly feel the impact of policies and decision makers. This is also why you see many local business owners frequently serving as board members with local non-profits and community organizations.
Sales and property taxes pay for critical services such as schools, libraries, road infrastructure, and countless other amenities we enjoy and expect as residents. Countless studies also show that local businesses donate to community causes at twice the rate of national chains. While it’s undisputable that some chains and big box stores regularly give back to their communities and not all local businesses do the same, the overall impact is clear: Locally owned businesses play a key role in establishing and shaping our community.
What can you do?
This Independence Day, Local First invites La Plata County residents to join a week-long, nationwide movement in celebration of economic democracy and community self-determination. “Independents Week” takes place from July 1 through July 7, and acknowledges the contributions made by locally owned, independent businesses.
During Independents Week, visit our local independents – shops and establishments you won’t find anywhere else. Talk to the clerk or shop owner who may also be your friend and neighbor, try on a pair of perfectly fitted shoes or a backpack.
Do your part in helping to preserve community, and our local independents.
LeeAnn Vallejos is managing director of Local First, a not-for-profit organization made up of 215 locally owned, independent businesses. Reach her at LeeAnn@local-first.org.