The old saying goes there are two sides to every coin. There are also two sides to any transaction business and consumer. You’ve probably heard the phrase “buy local” countless times, and may have even seen the slogan in store windows, but have you ever wondered how to do it?

On the other side, have you been trying to keep shoppers loyal to your small business, or trying to get them in the door and out of chain stores? In a 2012 survey by the American Planning Association, when people were asked what made an ideal community, the top answer was having locally owned businesses nearby. Unfortunately, it is tough these days for local businesses to stay open. If you want to see your town’s economy survive and prosper, the best thing you can do is go the extra mile – or more accurately, stay close to home – to shop there. Here are some practical ways to do this on both sides of the fence.

Learn about Local Businesses: To learn more about local businesses in your area, set aside a day to explore your town and see what it has to offer. Part of the benefit of shopping local comes from being able to run errands on foot, leave your car at home and focus on the area within walking distance. One way local businesses can get some real buzz going is to buy locally themselves and feature how they buy local in their marketing. Several restaurants do a great job of this, with menus describing the locally raised beef and produce they are using in their dishes, down to what farm it is from. It also lets small businesses support each other directly and can help build new relationships.
Go Local for Services: Goods are often cheaper at big-box stores that sell cheap, mass-produced wares. However, services are often just as cheap (or even cheaper) when you buy them locally. For example, my local auto mechanic typically charges lower prices (and does better work) than the dealership. Likewise, taking a pair of worn-out shoes to my local shoe-repair shop for resoling is cheaper than buying a new pair.

Shop Local for the Holidays and beyond: Once you’ve identified local businesses in your area, the next step is to make shopping at them part of your usual routine. Shopping local is a great choice for holiday gifts, because a present feels more special when it comes from your own hometown. Each year, American Express sponsors an event called “Small Business Saturday” on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, encouraging people to start their holiday shopping at local businesses. Many independent businesses offer special sales on this day. This can be a welcome alternative to fighting the increasing crowds at major retailers “Black Friday” sales. When you invest money in your local economy, you’re not just helping local business owners – you’re also helping yourself. You’re making your town a better place to live in, with a rich character, a thriving economy, and a tightly-knit community. And the more local businesses prosper, the more new ones will open – making it even easier to continue shopping locally in the future.

Written by Keep It Local Columbia County volunteer, Lora Ressler for The Chief, Fall 2015

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