As a student of arts administration several years ago, I learned about a survey in which the vast majority of urban residents said they were very happy to have a ballet company located in their city, but only a small percentage actually attended ballet performances. As we have all learned from Facebook, it’s far easier to like something than to do something.
A few years ago I received an order from an independent children’s boutique in a small Ontario city. This beautiful shop had existed for many years, and featured many Canadian-made products. When I visited to meet the owner, I noticed a large Loblaws store just a few steps away, with enormous Joe Fresh banners featuring children’s clothing.
“What’s that like, being virtually next door?” I asked the owner. “The price competition must be a challenge.” Indeed it was. A few months later, she decided to close up shop.
I don’t know precisely what went into making that decision, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that the choices of local shoppers had something to do with it. It’s hard to resist a great bargain – why buy adorable locally-made clothing when you can buy adorable cheap clothing?
I’ll tell you why. And I’m telling you this not just as a person who runs a small business with local production (honest!) but also as a mother on a tight budget. Today we heard of a catastrophic building collapse in Bangladesh, a factory that was allegedly making clothing for Joe Fresh and The Children’s Place, for Canadian consumers. Those tragedies happen because demand for low prices pushes down wages and safety standards. That’s the price paid for our fantastic bargains.
Thinking appreciative thoughts as you pass those cute independently-owned shops on your way to a big chain store doesn’t help to keep those businesses alive. But patronizing them does! The way I see it, buying local creates three big impacts:
- It connects us to the people who make and sell the things we eat, use and wear every day. I don’t know about you, but I think that makes everyday life sweeter.
- It keeps our local communities vibrant, busy, and interesting. Vive la différence! And perhaps most of all…
- It ensures that we always have lots of choices about where to spend our money, and what products are available to us to bring into our homes and our lives. Local industry requires local participation, and it’s worth the effort.
Have you found ways to buy local more often, or more meaningfully? Is it a challenge? I would love to know your thoughts about this subject that’s literally close to home for so many of us.