By Fran Johnson, publisher, Harford’s Heart Magazine
We’ve seen the commercials and heard the slogans urging us to Shop Local, Eat Local, and Support Your Local Community. The arguments for Keeping it Local are simply stated:
• Purchasing from locally-owned shops serves as an economic stimulus, helps grow other businesses and contributes to the local tax base.
• Local business owners are more invested in the community’s welfare and future. They donate more to local charities than non-local owners and they are less likely to leave.
• Local owned businesses help define the unique character of the community which is a big factor in your overall satisfaction with where you live and the value of your home and property.
• Local business usually locate in the town center, thereby contributing less to sprawl, congestion, habitat loss and pollution. They require comparatively little infrastructure and can more efficiently utilize public services relative to chain stores.
• Local businesses are the largest employers nationally; the more jobs available in the local community, the fewer people have to commute, resulting in less traffic and pollution.
Although the benefits of Keeping it Local can be simply stated, putting it into practice has multi-layered challenges, beginning with the definition of ‘local’ and ‘local business’ and continuing with the need to balance immediate economic concerns and long-term environmental and cultural impacts.
Something as simple as the recent purchase of a Christmas tree examplifies the conflicts. Did you purchase your Christmas tree from a local nursery or tree farm? Or did you purchase it from a community group such as the Lions Club or a scout troop, even though it may have been trucked in from Canada at a lower price? Or did you go to the (local) Home Depot (that might also have trucked in the tree), that employs local residents? The first choice supports a local farm, which helps preserve the agricultural heritage of Harford County, and is environmental-friendly. By contributing to a local community group, the second choice helps maintain the character of the community. And the third choice supports the commercial community, contributes to the tax base, and maintains employment.
Connecting a once-a-year purchase to environmental, cultural, and economic concerns may be a bit of a stretch. It’s just a Christmas tree, after all! Considering the implications of each purchase would be paralyzing; for most of us, most of the time, the choice comes down to price, convenience, and service.
As much as Keep it Local has an appealing reminiscence of quaint small town shops, in tight economic times, shoppers are willing to support local businesses only when the price and quality of products and services are comparable to ones they can find elsewhere. Because it would be impractical to restrict ‘local’ purchases to only products that are made locally of local-sourced materials, the definition of ‘local’ will depend on the produce or service purchased. If it isn’t available from a locally-owned small business, purchasing it at the local big box store might still qualify as ‘keeping it local.’ Particularly as the big box store provides jobs for local residents, pays local taxes, and contributes to local charities and community groups.
Keeping it Local, as a philosophy, can conflict with the realities of our personal budgets. Repeating the message reminds us to try to balance the theory and practice, while enjoying and supporting the businesses, services, shops, and activities that make up the character and culture of Harford County. What is most important, is to enjoy it all!