Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Social Responsibility - Why Shop Locally (Hear Me Out...)

This post is one of a series I've been writing tagged as "Social Responsibility" The series focuses on eating and shopping locally, choosing healthier food sources, supporting your local economy and merchants, and learning to do all these things without hurting your budget. I hope you enjoy the posts.

There's a small local retail chain in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts known as Benny's. Everyone who has lived in this area for any length of time knows that Benny's is the place to go when you can't find find it elsewhere. Can't find a replacement part for Grandma's 50-year-old lamp? Try Benny's. Can't find silver polish because most people use stainless steel? Try Benny's. Want to buy your kid a Big Wheel for Christmas? Try Benny's.

The unusual thing about Benny's is that they don't really fit into any one category of store and you can't really call them a "Big Box Store," a "Department Store," or even a "Discount Retailer." They're in a league of their own, carrying a little bit of everything, not a lot of anything in particular, but they always seem to have what you're looking for and the price is reasonable. The other unusual thing about Benny's is that they seem to have weathered the Big Box Store storm quite well. I'm not sure if it's pure Rhode Island stubbornness or good old fashioned business sense and good customer service, but there's are many Benny's stores mere blocks from a Walmart, Target, Home Depot, or Lowes and they've managed to stay standing.

It makes me sad to find fewer and fewer places like Benny's. Places like that offer you so much that the big guys can't offer:
  • They can often get obscure items for you because they can order a handful at a time.
  • Employees often have better knowledge about the products they sell.
  • They're usually much more friendly, greeting you, saying thanks, asking if you want help--basic customer service things that you can't take for granted anymore.
  • They often offer products from local producers and manufacturers that the big guys can't or don't offer.
  • More of the money you spend there ends-up back in the local economy through jobs, taxes, and employees spending their paychecks locally.
  • They're not afraid to tell you when they don't have something you want and refer you to a competitor that they know has it. You won't get that from the big guys.
Of course, there are many more reasons.

I used Benny's as an example because it has a special character about it that's great for illustrative purposes, but the same applies to food shopping. When you shop at a locally owned supermarket, farmer's market, etc., you're helping-out your local economy and creating local jobs--something we sorely need right now. You're helping local farmers who want to keep providing you with the best, most delicious and healthy foods and who don't want to have to produce foods to suit the factory-like needs of the big corporations.

Most importantly, you're demanding change, even though you don't think you are. Shopping locally creates more demand for local goods, increases production when necessary, and reduces wasted products that expire. The end result is better profitability for the producer, the seller, and eventually, lower prices for you.

A side effect is that you're sending a message to the big guys. It's no secret that they're willing to do whatever it takes to get your business, keep it, or get it back. Many larger grocers used to carry local products and I've seen the bulk of them discontinue the program, probably to keep their profits high. If we stop buying their crappy imported products and buy fresher stuff elsewhere, they'll eventually be forced to better the quality of their products.

I realize we can't do 100% of our weekly shopping at a local place. It's often not affordable and the selection isn't there. But if you can buy just one or two things locally, you'll be doing your part. Stop by a local fishmonger on the way home and pick-up some nice haddock for dinner. Make a trip to the farmer's market on the weekend. Or, pick-up milk at the local deli instead of the chain quickie mart and choose a locally produced brand. You may pay an extra dollar or two but it'll come back to you in the end.

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