Tree Hugger Tuesday: Ho Ho Ho! Be a Holiday Hero & Skip the Mall!
Oh man. With the end of Thanksgiving and the horror of Black Friday, the holidays are officially here. Deep breath, kids. Time to get out the holiday lists and brave the (ugh!) mall.
… or… you know… not.
This Tree-Hugger Tuesday I’d like to encourage you to think about an alternative to your typical holiday shopping, one that can do more for your world – that is, the planet and your community. See, don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I am all into this shop-locally thing. Now, I’m a year-round convert, but I am hoping I can talk you into shifting your shopping this holiday season – and SHOP LOCAL for your gifts!
Why, do you ask, should you listen to me? Well, let’s start with why I shop locally:
- Environmental Impact: This is the real reason I started with the whole local thing. Buying locally means less transportation so lower carbon footprints. In addition, local business are typically smaller scale, which means they’re often less processed and less wasteful. They’re also more likely to be centrally located, thus generally contributing less to sprawl and congestion. Collectively, all this means less energy and resource use, less pollution, and less habitat loss and environmental impact.
- Keep the money at home: I actually know almost all of the people I purchase from. This makes me happy because I know what happens to my hard-earned dollars, and because I am supporting people I like.
Shopping locally does even more to keep your money in your community. Local businesses are also more likely to spend their money within the local area, too (e.g. payroll, goods/services purchased from other area businesses, profits spent locally by owners, and donations to area charities) – supporting the economic base of that area. For example, a 2002 study by Civic Economics and a 2003 study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance found that for every $100 spent at local, independent retailers generated $45 of secondary local spending, compared to only $13 and $14 (respectively) in secondary spending for big box-store chains.
- Quality: I’ve said it before and I will say it again: In general, buying locally means better quality produce, goods, and services. In my experience, local businesses care more about putting out a quality product – if not because they actually care, than because they rely more on reputation within the local area than a large box chain. In addition, quality is usually the selling point for most small-scale businesses, and the products are more likely to be done on a smaller, quality-over-quantity-oriented scale. Furthermore, they often work in their own shops, and train employees to have more knowledge about the company and the product – meaning better customer service.
- Diversity: Sure, the aisles of products at your typical box store may seem like endless choice, but in reality a well-supported independent infrastructure provides more diversity for consumers. You are not limited by a nation-wide sales plan, but by what local businesses make, grow, and do – and by what local people want. Moreover, they can make that necklace exactly as you’d like it or order that book you just can’t find.
- Keep the community unique: I like supporting a diverse array of business and retailers, with one-of-a-kind shops and goods you can’t get elsewhere. This can also be important for a community to keep its character, which makes it more interesting place to live and can help encourage tourism.
Those are my personal motivations for shopping locally, and if they’re not enough to make a change this holiday season, consider the following:
- Pay it Forward: Local, independent businesses employ more supporting services and business within the local community than chains, such as accountants, insurance brokers, computer consultants, attorneys, advertising agencies, architects, designers, contractors, etc. They are also more likely to carry and use more locally-produced goods or supplies. A new big-box store, on the other hand, is often a “clone” of other stores, which removes the need for planning and design, and uses a minimum of local goods and services.
- The real job creators: Small businesses are the largest employers nationally. In addition, while large chains claim to increase jobs, they rarely follow through on that claim. Studies have shown they actually do more of displacing jobs and decreasing jobs over time. Furthermore, they also reduce employee benefits.
- Community Support: Local businesses are more likely to donate more to local charities (sometimes as much as 250% more). This may be because they know people involved, because they care about their community, or because supporting local causes is a good way to advertise.
- No benefit to the big guys: Big chains also claim to bring in more new sales tax revenue. As with jobs, this doesn’t typically happen as retail spending for a community that is not growing rapidly is already set. For example, an Iowa State University study determined 84% of Wal-Mart’s sales simply shifted dollars away from existing retailers. Furthermore, bringing in big chains may actually costs taxpayer more money to support.
For all of these reasons, I think it really pays off to buy your gifts from small-scale, independent retailers in your area. Sure, handmade stuff typically costs more, and shopping locally may require more effort and time than a trip to Wal Mart. But people I buy from live in and are a part of my community; they have roots here and children here. In my experience, they are also more concerned about the environment, about their impact, and on living sustainably. They care about the place they live in and are invested in its future. In addition, they care about what they’re selling, be it a scarf, service, or butternut squash, and want to provide something better than what’s available in plastic from China at Wal Mart.
Personally, I would prefer a place with many diverse local businesses, where people are independent and allowed to be creative, than a strip mall of employees punching a time card and selling what shows up on the truck.
So. How do you do it, this shop local thing? Well, I’d advise the following:
- Make a commitment to purchase 10%, 25% or 50% of your holiday gifts locally. Come to terms with the fact that local presents might seem to cost more, but make the mental break between quality and quantity.
- Make it an event you look forward to: Take a Saturday afternoon to stroll through your local down town. Grab some friends and hit up a craft fair. Don’t think of it as taking more time or effort, shopping locally can be gosh darn fun, and a helluva lot more enjoyable than the mall.
- Go online to look for organizations to help you find local, independent businesses. Excellent resources exist at Shift Your Shopping, which also has an interactive map, so you can easily find organizations near you.
- Search for retailers on your own using Yelp – where they are also challenging people to shop locally this season, and have additional information and advice.
- Shop online for unique handmade and vintage from small-scale vendors at Etsy.com.
In then end, no hoards of irritated parents and whiny kids, and you can actually find some very unique gifts for the people you care about. Something they may not be able to pick up themselves, something special and something that will last. Something you will be really excited to give this year.
Don’t you think it’s time for something a little different this holiday season?
For more information, I suggest the following websites:
Key studies on big-box impacts: A run-down of studies by category, with quick a synopsis of each.