8 Reasons to Buy Local (Even If It Costs a Little More)


When I was a kid, the small Midwestern town I called home had three hardware stores, three clothing stores, two shoe stores, two jewelers, and a bookshop. Each one of those businesses is gone now and a single mammoth department store has taken their place.

As we complain about the hollowing out of our towns, few of us make the tough choices necessary to reinvigorate our local economies by supporting independent businesses. Not many are willing to pay just a little bit more, adjust their schedules to more limited hours of operation, or make two or three additional stops to get the things we need. Maybe it's time for a retail reawakening — time to trade online buying for offline community-building, and time to swap big-box shopping for some small-batch love. (See also: Buy This — Not That — at the Farmer's Market)

Here are eight reasons to buy local, even if it costs a little more.

1. It Supports Our Neighbors

Few things we do in life have a clear impact. In a typical retail transaction, consumers are vaguely aware that their purchase helps someone somewhere, but all the details are missing. Buying local helps us support our neighbors, avoid layers of economic complexity that can often hide labor abuses, and sustain the communities that sustain us.

2. The Revenue Boosts Local Economies

Sure, large national department stores employ members of our communities and their wages benefit local economies, but the profits (and real wealth) rise to the top and are funneled away. Seldom do outside manufacturers and sellers significantly invest in the communities they serve. When they do, it's usually through charitable donations that don't create enduring cycles of benefit. But when we buy from small-scale independent businesses, the salaries, the revenue, and the profit are more likely to stay local.

3. It's Green

Items produced and sold locally require less shipping, which reduces the need for fuel, packaging, warehousing, refrigeration, and other carbon-intensive services. And for consumers (particularly those in rural areas or cities with heavy traffic), buying local means less time spent behind the wheel and less cash spent filling up the tank.

4. It's a Great Way to Network and Build Relationships

Buying local connects producers and consumers in a way that big-box shopping simply can't match. Since we all buy stuff, why not use our economic activity to build and nurture relationships? Maybe you'll become fast friends with the couple who sells organic produce; maybe your daughter will work at the local bookstore during high school; maybe your son will apprentice with the chef at the farm-to-table restaurant.

5. It Helps Us Keep Tabs on Quality

Shrinking the distance between producer and consumer helps both parties keep tabs on quality and respond quickly to any issues. If that jar of fresh salsa you purchased just wasn't up to par, you can speak directly to the manufacturer at the farmer's market. If that handmade wool sweater begins to fray, work with the weaver on a repair or replacement.

6. It Creates a Direct Seller/Buyer Feedback Loop

Large manufacturers covet consumer feedback and spend lots of money to get it. When we buy local, the feedback loop is organic and ongoing. Buyers can request a special color or size, point out a design flaw, or suggest a great way to expand a product line or customize a service. With this sort of informal and direct exchange, sellers collect valuable customer feedback and buyers get heard.

7. It Expands Choice

Though large retailers may advertise a wide selection, the variety of what they market is decided by a small group of corporate buyers. Real choice comes from dozens of independent businesses tailoring their goods and services to the very unique needs, tastes, and interests of their communities.

8. Each Product Comes With a Story

When we buy from local, independent businesses, we're buying a story — a story about how an oak chair was made, the challenges a beekeeper faced the previous season, or the inspiration for an artist's work. These narratives attach themselves to the things we buy, enrich our transactions, and help us appreciate the vital links between maker and market.

Do you make a point to buy local when you have a choice? How has keeping the buyer/seller relationship close to home benefited you?

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