I hear it all the time. “I can’t believe (fill in the blank) is going out of business!” I usually respond with, “Oh, did you shop there often?” and nine times out of ten, the answer is, “You know, I haven’t been there in years.”
I’m baffled by that response. Don’t we realize we have a say in the matter? Don’t we know that it’s up to us to keep the places we say we enjoy and appreciate open?
Clearly, we are committed consumers. After all, Americans spent over a trillion dollars on Christmas this year. As we head into a new decade, we need to realize that every dollar we spend is a vote. We have to ask ourselves a simple question, “Where will we cast it?”
To decide, we must consider what kind of a community we want to live in and understand our part in it. Do we want our goods and nutrition and services to be dominated by online retailers and fast food establishments and big box stores? Most of us would answer, “No, of course not!” but I wonder if our bank statements would tell otherwise.
The truth is simple. If we want small businesses to continue on, we cannot limit our buying to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We must shop them all year long.
If we want non-chain restaurants to survive, we must eat our meals there.
If we want farmers’ markets to thrive, we must buy what we need from those committed to growing it.
If we want that cute little boutique to remain open, we must purchase the beautiful gifts and clothing they sell.
In other words, we must put our money where we say our hearts are. It requires intentionality and choice every day of our lives. And it’s worth it.
There are great benefits to buying, eating, and investing locally, including lowering our taxes and keeping more money in the local economy. In fact, approximately twice the amount spent at small businesses stays in the community in which it is spent when compared to money spent at big box stores.
The choice is ours. Will we go out to the family-owned Mexican restaurant or settle for Taco Bell? Will we park and go inside the unique coffee shop and shoot the breeze with our favorite barista or settle for crappy-but-fast coffee at a drive-though?
Will we purchase a gift at our favorite downtown shop (and thereby help owners who are committed to our towns) or order it from Amazon from our comfy couches (and thereby line Jeff Bezos’s overstuffed pockets)?
In short, will we choose community over convenience?
I get it. We are an impatient people. We like things quick and easy. But if we want the special places that we know and love to remain open, we must spend our time and money there. After all, they’re businesses not museums.
The future landscape of our downtowns depends on us. Our wallets will determine what they look like.
Eileen Button teaches Communication at Mott Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.