Independents Week

Sure. You’re thinking I can’t spell and perhaps that does happen on occasion but not today. This 4th of July week is not only symbolic of our nation’s freedom but it’s a time for all Americans to celebrate the importance of our economic democracy by honoring the locally owned independent businesses.

My Mantra

In 1954, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said, “When a nation of shopkeepers is transformed into a nation of clerks, enormous spiritual sacrifices are made.” Here more than fifty years later, we can celebrate the essence of his words by rallying around our local businesses.

Let me be clear on why I believe this 6 year old celebration makes sense for communities around the globe:

Big box stores are able to provide economies of scale by delivering a consistent appearance and business model wherever they are located. Yes that may mean that cheaper goods are available but that consistency also means that every community ends up looking the same. That “sameness” erodes what I call placemaking – those attributes and local businesses that create a unique look and feel for a city or town. And I will argue that placemaking is a basic tenant of economic development.

A couple of years back, a study from Grand Rapids, MI examined spending patterns in their community. The results were startling. They determined that if all 600,000 residents of Grand Rapids simply shifted 10% of their spending from national to local independent businesses, the result would be 1600 new jobs, an additional $130 million invested in the local economy and an increase of $50 million in local wages within one year. That’s in part due to the fact that those local businesses pay taxes and are more likely to also use local services than their national counterparts. The way I count, that is real economic development that can start immediately rather than any expensive and long-term business attraction campaign.

Local businesses build community because they’re often based upon relationship. Last night, my son and I ate dinner at Eddie’s House, a chef we know who actively participates in our town.

Local independent businesses help a community retain talent. This goes back to the placemaking. Those local businesses from coffee houses to copy shops and hardware stores are what give a community character. Character is one of the things that attracts talent. In a community such as ours, keeping that rich and robust talent as it graduates from the University is a great strategy. Ultimately, it’s what attracts and retains other base load businesses.

So please, stop by your local farmers’ market, sip a glass of pinot in an independent cafe, go to the butcher for your meat needs, and the knife sharpener and the yoga studio and a bakery for fresh bread and the tailor and of course, the candlestick maker.

If you live in AZ, please use this golden coupon to receive a discount at hundreds of independent businesses. If you don’t live in AZ, consider starting a golden coupon program and wherever you are, please, tell me the story of your experiences below.

Leave a comment

62 Comments

  1. That is so well said Tammy. It is unbelievable to think that if a community just shifted 10% of its spending from huge stores to independently owned stores how much richer we would all be. It is a crime that governments all over the western world have encouraged and assisted the squeezing out of small business owners. I try to shop with small businesses as much as possible xx

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  2. Thank you Tammy, for doing the math for us, encouraging us to support our local talent and shops. It’s so wonderful to see someone not only survive, but thrive and add to the community in a way only they can.

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  3. I try to not be disheartened by how unwilling we all seem to be to do the things within our power to help ourselves like this.

    Amazing how the numbers add up. Yet we balk at making one more stop, or paying one more dollar or taking the time to learn about what it really is that we are so thoughtlessly purchasing and stuffing our landfills with…

    This election year is wearing on my nerves already. We don’t even bother to understand the issues before we start firing off in defense of our “beliefs” with bumper slogan one liners we conveniently picked up on Facebook and mainstream media…

    I wish I felt like people really understood what’s at stake and who really makes the decisions around here… we don’t even do the simple things we can easily control, like supporting our local businesses….

    Have Americans changed, or are we as we always were?

    Reply
    • We’re looking for the deal. We’re looking for convenience and we can drive everywhere. Those are big differences in my mind.

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  4. Love this post. You absolutely convinced me. :)

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  5. What important information! Too often I go for the slick, stream-lined-order- processing-with-free-shipping of amazon.com…but I don’t think anyone loves a book store more than I do, and they always, so kindly, offer to special order and ship anything I would like. From now on, I’m going to buy my books nearby, from the independent sellers. Thank you!

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  6. Lisa H

     /  July 1, 2012

    Perhaps the local store is a bit more expensive in the short term, but if one really stops to assess the impact of that one small store, so much more is given back to the community. Local stores give more to the community: a sense of belonging, individuality, unique products, better service, the list goes on! One of the best forms of advertising for your local store is word of mouth. Carry business cards of your favorite stores to pass out to those you meet. We all make a huge difference, one person and one store at a time.

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    • Great idea Lisa. We were at Marcellinos last night (YUM <3) and I grabbed a couple of cards on my way out.

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      • Lisa H

         /  July 1, 2012

        Oooooh we love Marcellino’s! We really miss having them down the street, but their new restaurant in Scottsdale is perfect. Whenever someone asks where my favorite Italian restaurant is, hands down, it’s Marcellino’s.

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  7. What a great way to celebrate Independence Day! I’ve been trying to support the local economy as a business person, as well as a consumer. There’s so much more we can all do.

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  8. Go Tammy–you always present the data that supports what many of us already intuit as being the right thing to do. But, my goodness, what that 10% shift can accomplish is a mind-blower.
    Happy Independents Week!

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    • Same to you Nancy and thanks for all you do in your local economy! Hope you’re not too hot right now.

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  9. Excellent, couldn’t agree more. The phenomenon you describe I have also heard referred to as “High Street (or Main Street) Homogenization.” In city after city, malls and strip malls are all filled with the same big chain stores selling foreign-made goods; supermarkets all sell the same brands of imported out of season inorganic genetically modified processed foods, and chain restaurants selling the same deep fried high calorie junk food contribute to the healthcare nightmare known as the Standard American Diet. With the exception of street names, it might be possible to wake up in a new city every day and not even know the difference. What ten things make Gilbert unique? Queen Creek? Goodyear? Surprise? Mesa? Tempe? Years ago this might have been an easy list to compile; not so much now. Those little things that give each community its own flavor, its own deviance from the corporate model, need to be supported and celebrated. The local businesses whose profits aren’t funneled away to some out of state head office provide more support to us; it’s only fair that we support and even champion them in return.

    Your post reminds me of the writing of E.F. Schumacher, or of many articles published by the New Economics Foundation (NEF). It is my firm belief that our society will be forced into making huge strides towards localization within the next one to two decades. The sooner we start, the easier that transition will be for us.

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    • Thanks for reminding me of E.F. Schumacher. I read Small is Beautiful on a spring break in college and have sort of forgotten about it – but clearly the principles had an impact on me.

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  10. I completely agree with you. People just don’t understand that money spent at big chains flows away from their community. Especially if the company headquarters is located out-of-state (Or farther!). This is a big part of the reason I love Co-ops so much. They give us all the opportunity to take ownership of a local business and contribute to the growth of local communities and small producers. You can find a Co-op in your community here: http://strongertogether.coop/coops/ If you’ve never been to one before you should really give it a try. Co-ops have a lot more to offer than granola and patchouli.

    Reply
    • Great comment and great link. Thanks so much. I am going to check out the link because I think we have a need in our community that is not being met.

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      • Thank you. It’s something I feel very strongly about, and I really appreciate it when posts like yours provide people with a chance to engage and converse about it.

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  11. Your mantra not only benefits local producers, but also good health of all who take the plunge. It is a decision.

    I found your figures frighteningly fascinating. I see our little island stepping up its farmers’ markets, private fresh food stands and a new raw food cafe. Yeay!

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    • Are you on Saltspring Amy? We visit Harstine every year and I would love to hook up sometime – especially to visit your new raw cafe!

      Reply
      • What a thrill it would be to meet you and share a raw food lunch with you, Tammy!

        The reality is…island hopping takes time and money. It often takes more time than holidaymakers anticipate or have available. Even Vancouver people miscalculate – thinking they can whip over for a day. We jokingly call it a Government Cruise because folks are “ferrying” longer than they’re on the island.

        Ferries are geared to transport people to larger centers. They aren’t set up for an island hop, unfortunately. Your friends on Harstine probably have many insights into ferry life, too.

        I look forward to our little Rawsome Cafe getting more on its feet – with a broader menu. The owner has focused on the drawing card for fence sitters – desserts. Once more people discover how tasty the food is, I hope his clientele will accept the price matches the amount of effort and time put into creating a dish.

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  12. A great post Tammy, I’m such a believer in local independent shops, I’m very fortunate as where I live we do have plenty, but I remember when I moved here I said to myself “if you don’t use them you will lose them”, and over time yes some have closed, but others have opened up or changed in their place.

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  13. Wonderful post! People have such a SHORT timeline even in their selfishness. They don’t see that “saving money” at Wal-Mart ends up costing a LOT – maybe ultimately their own livelihood. Great reminders, Tammy!!

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  14. I totally agree with everything you’ve written here and will be sharing this on my facebook page. Thanks for a great article!

    Reply
  15. That “sameness” came as a real surprise to me when I first traveled out of my home state. I expected a different region to seem more different than it did.

    It’s amazing what a difference just 10% of our spending can make! Thank you for sharing this.

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  16. Yes, it’s interesting to see how big box stores work with communities vs. smaller stores. Example: we live in a town with two public tennic courts. Yet, you can’t buy tennis balls or raquets at either Wal-mart or the Dollar General. We don’t have a sporting goods store, or even another general goods or “supermarket” that might carry this type of goods. If our Wal-mart doesn’t have a sporting goods item, that means you don’t get it here. It’s frustrating. After all, who wants to drive 50 miles just so you can play a spontaneous game of tennis? On the other hand, I am deeply grateful that I can buy gluten-free crackers and (any!) books. (No bookstore.) There is an interesting post about our town and Wal-mart on Chickens in the Road (http://chickensintheroad.com/2012/05/21/ …. pssst… there are FOUR traffic lights.) that captures somewhat the challenge of living locally and Wal-mart’s existence. I’d rather not support Walmart, but nor am I willing to drive for hours to avoid it.

    On the other hand, I walked into our local jewelry store and they pulled out a catalog for me to find the perfect present since I didn’t want what they had in stock. And this is why the jewelry shop exists: because it serves people as individuals. There isn’t necessarily enough business for too many little specialty shops (no bookstore or sporting goods store in the pre-Walmart days either), just because of the low population density and the relatively low incomes around here. But, we can support three farming good stores and several farming implement/tractor sellers.

    (Perhaps I should just do a blog post? Sorry for the length.)

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    • Wow. You bring a very interesting perspective. Would you call your area a food desert? Have you checked out the USDA map (i’m sure you have) http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-desert-locator/go-to-the-locator.aspx

      I know I was on about shop keepers and the like but would your community buy local food if they could? How would you translate it to health benefits? If there were community workers who sold food and did very minor check-ins like flow meters for asthma patients or something like that, would it be beneficial?

      I want to find a circular story where a change can produce a strong outcome – like local food = fewer emergency room visits or something like that.

      Reply
      • Technically, we’re not. Partly, that’s because there is the Wal-mart and a couple of little stores out in the edges of the county. Partly, it’s also the way a food desert is defined. 10 miles here can be a long way, and the whole county is probably only 30 miles in length, and less in width. I’ve often argued that food deserts needed to be evaluated in terms of time to reach a store rather than miles.

        The question of would people buy locally: some would. Many grow their own– it’s a community with a strong enough foraging/growing/hunting/preserving tradition that our walmart has two full aisles of canning equipment this time of year. Real food is still within both the community and individual memories here. On the other hand, there is enough poverty and dependence on government checks that I think there is a strong cohort that will always buy the cheapest. But, there is a old farmer who picks up produce from couple of farms about 50 miles away who always sells out of sweet corn and tomatoes. That’s not about being local, though, it’s about tasting right.

        I think the story you’re looking for here is the story of fighting diabetes. (And teen pregnancy… but I don’t know that local food could do that for you.) Can local food do that? Yes, but only in the context of people shifting their dietary patterns away from the four sections of their plate being 1) bread; 2) meat; 3) white potatoes; 4) a veg (probably green beans or corn). Extension did a cooking to manage diabetes class that went well, for example, and introduced people to new techniques and the practical advice needed to turn generic medical advice into a meal. Now, add in a CSA component, and you probably have something that can lead to long-term change.

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  17. Jane Ward

     /  July 3, 2012

    We have a similar shopping-dining push here in our small town and the downtown has thrived from sleepy and depressed to approaching vibrant. The benefits are not just economic but also persoanl. When I eat or shop in locals, I meet neighbors and make friends and together we make the fabric of our town. When people have to come together to vote or support projects or rally around those in need, we understand better why we must stick together or even listen to differing viewpoints. So many benefits to local.

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  18. Count me in. Nothing can be more patriotic than patronizing products made by fellow Americans. A lot of people enjoy talking about Independence but one important question is ,” Are we really 100% independent and free? Does my way of life reflects that concept of freedom?” Freedom is not only about being free from doing what we want but about freedom to be happy, at peace, to have a world “safe” for our kids. Happy 4th of July…

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  19. hebronacres

     /  July 3, 2012

    The great agrarian poet and essayist, Wendell Berry, has a lot to say about our rural towns and their vitality to our entire society. Be sure to read his The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. Supporting local does more than just ensure the vibrancy of our individual communities, it ensures that more property and businessiness and communities are run by more people instead of our land and towns being aggregated into fewer and fewer hands. Buy local because it will be one of the few things we can do to have a significant impact on our overall culture, not just in our immediate sphere of influence. Brava, Tammy.

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  20. Thanks for posting this! We Americans like to think big, yet we also treasure our small towns and small local businesses. We don’t want to only treasure them as part of our history. We definitely need a balance, because we are becoming too weighted to the big entities, which lose track of and don’t value local needs, whether in corporations or in governments. Coincidentally, I’m writing a post about a small company in Michigan, which I’ll probably post on Saturday.

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    • There is much to be said for the way that local business and farms build culture. Looking forward to your post. You are a talented writer.

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  21. Farmer’s markets- treasure troves the world over, Tammy!

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  22. We do, Tammy, we do! Although I must admit that Starbucks certainly draws my business in whatever community they’re in, they have figured out how to make a sense of “place” in any place they are located, and I just prefer their coffee over any of the local brews I have come across.

    Reply
    • Yes, I agree that the Starbucks formula creates a sense of place. In that way, it’s very deliberate and many independent businesses could learn from them. When I lived your direction, there was a wonderful man named Bruno that ran Caribou Cafe.

      Reply
  23. My parents were independent business folk, and now my brothers are too. Honoring them and others like them. Thank you for highlighting them! They are the backbone of society in so many ways.

    Reply
    • It is about time that we begin to acknowledge their role in creating culture.

      Reply
  24. I love the relationship aspect of local buying. And the golden coupon program sounds like a great idea!

    Reply
  25. Melissa

     /  July 6, 2012

    Thank you so much for posting this. Joining a CSA has made me more aware of the importance of buying food locally – with the additional bonus that local food just tastes better! I’m happy to report that my nearest farmer’s market has nearly doubled in size from last year, and is now a place where I can get local meat and cheeses as well as fruits and vegetables.

    It’s a good reminder to apply that attitude toward other local businesses, too. Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Awareness is the first step! Congratulations. Now the second step is to make others aware also!

      Reply

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