Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with a friend about books. Not just reading books but also where to buy them. She was lamenting the plight of our local independent bookseller and how she does not see how they can compete with Amazon and B&N and that she, who is a big ‘buy local’ kinda person, has given in and ordered from Amazon quite a bit. Because money is tight. Because there is free shipping. Because it is 40% off.
Well, money is tight for all of us, that is for certain. But here is a different way to put things in perspective. When money is tight for everyone, and with the exception of the super-rich, it is tight for all of us, we tend to think we have less buying power. Well, we do have less money to buy stuff with, that’s a mathematical reality. But that also means every cent is more powerful in its affect upon the world around us.
This is far easier to see in non-profit areas, such as the church. During the fat times, people can give to multiple charities and it is not as much of a strain. The choice of who you wish to support is not as difficult to make. But, during the lean times, tougher choices have to be made. Do you give to your local congregation? Disaster relief? The arts? World Wildlife? Etc etc. Every dollar has to be thought through and its destination carefully chosen. In turn, each dollar is prized more by the recipient because there simply isn’t as much to go around and you know that if your organization received the donation it was far more likely that the support was genuine, deep and abiding. Organizations in the non-profit field stand or fall in lean times based not on services provided to the money sources but on the quality of life they represent or purpose and meaning they espouse.
Same thing is true of for-profit businesses. Each dollar we spend during the lean times has an impact upon which companies stand or fall.
As of late, there have been many pleas for Americans to revive their interest in choosing to buy American made products over those made in other countries. This is important for the very reason I just stated: each dollar has greater weight, goes farther and has more lasting impact in the lean times. I contend that we need to examine something else which is, most likely, even greater in significance: who are you buying from?
Extra discounts, free shipping and the like are all so very tempting. But what are we supporting? Better said, what are we choosing not to support? I’ll confess that I have an Amazon wish list and there are things I still order from them. But not books. I am slowly whittling away at my book list by ordering them one at a time from City Lights Books here in town. And the same is true for any gift or item I need. If it is at all possible, I will buy it from a locally owned business in the town where I live. If I can, I’ll buy it from someone who made it themselves.
Recently, I purchased an oil lamp for the frequent times the power goes out in this area. I could have gone to Wal-mart and gotten one for fairly cheap, but I went to the local hardware store instead. I chose to buy the same lantern, which was moderately more, and a smaller bottle of oil than I would have purchased at the big store. In the end, I spent the same amount I would have at Wal-mart and ended up with the same lantern and less oil. I’ve used the lantern several times and still haven’t run out of oil, so I didn’t even need the larger bottle I would have purchased at the store where I would have gotten a “better deal”. Wal-mart doesn’t really care that I did not buy from them. The hardware store does.
I may buy fewer books, bottles of oil, odds and ends and smaller portions of the necessities, but I want the money I do spend on these items to help the survival of a local business owner. Is it better for me to be able to buy as much as I want in a gluttony of false purchasing power, or is it better to moderately purchase and do so in such a way that it supports people who live in my own town? Amazon, Wal-mart, B&N and all the other big box companies will not feel the loss of my dollars but the local businesses here will feel their addition. They are investments in the future of their companies and, in no small way, investments in the local communities.
Here’s some other interesting information from the 3/50 Project:
If half the employed population spent $50 each month in locally owned independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, etc. (and that’s true whether the item you purchase was made in the USA or China or anywhere else, for that matter.) If you spend the same $100 at a national chain store, only $43 stays in the community. If you spend it online, NOTHING returns to the community. Get That? NOTHING. Not A Penny.
So buy a book from your independent bookseller, tools and supplies from your local hardware, cards and gifts from the little shop on the corner, eat at the small owner-operated restaurant, and get produce from the farmer’s market. Use the power of our fewer dollars to invest in local businesses and in our own community.