Friday, October 23, 2009

The 3/50 Project: Saving the Brick & Mortars

Regular guest poster, Jess, muses on the importance of buying local. Jess blogs at Sweet Eventide.

Yesterday I was walking along the main street in my town which is home to many independent businesses. I have several favorites that I visit regularly and one of them had a flyer in the window which I had not noticed before.


The 3/50 Project is not to be confused with 350.org, and the International Climate Action Day coming tomorrow, October 24th. The flyer caught my attention right away with the question: "What three independently owned businesses would you miss if they disappeared?"

This was way too easy for me to answer, as directly across the street, one of my other favorite businesses is in the process of shutting down. The flyer continues, "Stop in. Say hello. Pick up something that brings a smile. Your purchases are what keeps those businesses around." But the big sign in the window across the street makes it all too clear that Good Sage with its lovely offerings is not going to be around much longer.



Which brings us to the 50 part: apparently if half of the employed population spent $50 a month in locally owned businesses, it would generate upwards of $42 billion. "How many times," I wondered, "have I wandered into Good Sage and said hello?" Many times. "How many times did I spend $50?" Not many.

There is where the hard part comes in. Like many families, I am watching our family's pennies as best as I can. Living on one income in a high-cost-of-living area is a challenge. But Green Bean got me thinking with her post about great ways to spend money. It turns out that spending a little to keep a local business alive is definitely one of the great ways to spend.

Granted, I loved almost every product in Good Sage, but everything always seemed "out of my budget." So instead I spent almost nothing when a more moderate approach could have worked. Maybe buying a pair of their lovely colored tapers regularly would have helped, even if I couldn't afford one of their gorgeous wool rugs. When I do spend, I am very conscious about it. I sincerely struggle over it and most of our spending is on high-quality food. But somehow giving me a number to focus on makes it easier. Surely I can divert $50 a month to something I believe in so deeply.



For example, I haven't purchased books in years upon years. They got filed under "extremely indulgent" in my mind somehow. "Why buy when I have the library?" is a common line of thinking. There is a darling independent bookstore down the street from Good Sage that recently opened its doors. I am now determined to let a few more books into my family's budget. Even if the 3/50 project is too late to help B.K. and Susanne, hopefully it's not too late to help Diane and Lauren.

7 comments:

Heather @ SGF said...

Statistics from several research projects show that when you spend $100 at a big-box store, $14 comes back to the community. Whereas, if you spend $100 at a locally owned company, $45 is returned to the community. That's three times the amount! I don't have numbers on farmers' markets, which I'm sure would be a bit higher since it eliminates a middle-man entirely, but these are huge numbers.

Another way to look at this, is that while the economy is in the slumps and people are watching their pennies, who do you want to support? Sam Walton's family? The people who own Kroger, Target, and other big-box stores headquartered in some other town, some other state, maybe even some other country... or your friends, family, neighbors, and farmers who live with you in your community, with you and your children. All the sudden it becomes an easy choice. Ok. It may be a little more expensive, so you buy just a little less to adjust. But in the end, you're have a better, stronger local economy and community to show for it.

Green Bean said...

Anyone interested in keeping their local economies small should read Big Box Swindle. Boy oh boy what that book an eye opener for me!

Still, though, it is tough. Mostly because I hardly buy anything new. That's the non-consumer in me, I guess. So, whenever I go make a purchase, I weigh in all kinds of factors: can I borrow it, can I get it used, do I really need it. When I do buy new, though, I try to support the big guy. As Heather says, its all about who you want to support.

Great post.

ruchi said...

This is a very tricky balance, isn't it?

I think the issue is that many of us here on this blog are not the ones shopping at big box stores. I almost never shop at big box stores. But I also almost never shop. And when I do, I like to patronize my local thrift store or Craigslist or what have you.

As a former strict non-consumer, I feel very ambivalent about spending money on unnecessary goods just to keep local businesses afloat. On the one hand I understand the importance of local businesses to the economy. On the other hand, I feel like buying new stuff I really don't need is a waste of resources.

I've basically solved this question for myself by supporting local restaurants, bars, etc. Because no matter what, I do buy food, and I enjoy delicious dinners wherein I don't have to cook or clean up.

But I do sympathize with local shop keepers. In an ideal world the people who shop at big box stores would shop at local places instead, and I would continue to shop at thrift stores.

Kellie said...

Excellent, excellent message. Thank you!

We are currently compacting and it's been amazing to me to look over past credit card bills and see how all of those little purchases added up. I'd much rather "splurge" and spend $50 on something at a local store than have yet another bag of clearance rack items from Target. There are so many wonderful things I've never bought because of the expense, yet I wouldn't blink at spending $50 at a big box store. Wow, I think you just rocked my world. :)

Alison said...

I think Kellie voiced my thoughts exactly. Fortunately, of late I've been able to buy some things for both my son and I in locally owned second hand stores, because we have two awesome ones in our little town. Feels great to support their business and know that I am keeping the chain moving.

I also found out that our independent book store can order books online and usually match or beat the amazon price by a $1 or $2. Sometimes she actually even orders them from Amazon and sometimes she gets them from a warehouse. I am not sure the exact logistics, but so far I've bought one book through her in this manner, so you might want to see if your local shop can do something similar!

Jamie Watson said...

Terrific post, Jess. Really got me thinking.

p.s. Just give me the signal anytime you want to support the local cupcake shop.

Cinda Baxter, The 3/50 Project said...

Great post! Thanks for helping to spread the word...every voice out there counts.

The glory of the $50 challenge is that it’s really not a challenge at all. We don’t ask consumers to spend an additional $50 per month, but to simply think about where they’re currently spending that money, then shift those purchases away from big boxes and chains, back to local businesses. Most people are stunned at just how easy that is. Basic staples to birthday cards...it’s pretty simple to do.

Better yet, it’s $50 total, per month-—not per store. Again, money we’re already spending....

Here’s to big things ahead for all the little guys out there,

Cinda Baxter
Founder
The 3/50 Project
the350project.net

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