Last Updated Aug 17, 2010 8:35 PM EDT
They give your community character. We've all driven along those unsightly strips of road that are flanked mostly by gas stations, schlocky chain restaurants, strip malls, and car dealerships. Is that what you want your entire city or town to look like? It will if you don't patronize local businesses. The effect: property values go down, your school system suffers, and your local economy is suddenly dependent on the whims of big chains that have no stake in your community. For my part, I head to The Red Rooster Diner when I'm driving through Brewster, NY, instead of stopping at one of the many fast food places on the same road. Best burgers and shakes in the whole world and Brewster would be poorer without them. And when I'm in Austin, I always stop at Amy's Ice Creams, an Austin institution that you won't find anywhere else.
They save the world from homogeneity. A big box store in Atlanta carries the same stuff as the same big box store in Boston. Didn't you stop wanting to be like everyone else when you were, say, 15? Local retailers and specialty shops are far more likely to carry unique goods, many of them made by small companies that are hoping to get wider distribution by first proving themselves in local markets. For instance, if you were shopping in specialty food stores in Manhattan's West Village five years ago, you might have sampled the very first packages of Feed Granola, which is now available nationwide. Shopping locally not only gives you a first look at hot new products, but it allows you to support the small companies that make them, and hence move them onto a bigger playing field.
They know who you are and what you need. Sure, I shop at Home Depot once in a while, even though I begin to hyperventilate in the parking lot. If I know exactly what I want and where to find it, I can typically get my errand without putting myself in a foul mood. But if I want to solve a problem or get advice on, say, how to patch the hole in my ceiling caused by a leaky pipe, I'm going straight to Wise Hardware, a family business in my town staffed by people who know me. I have confidence that they'll not only sell me the right tools, but they'll spend time teaching me how to use them. And when I'm between books and want a recommendation for a good read, I know I can count on the staff at The Book Loft to not only point me in the right direction, but to carry titles from local authors who deserve my support. And at Blue Dog Wine & Spirits, I know the owner will remember that I don't like Chardonnay and will automatically hand me a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that I haven't yet tired (and within my price range!)
Here's the bottom line: yes, you'll probably spend a few pennies more shopping at local businesses, but you'll spend less time, be more satisfied with your purchase, and most likely walk away smiling instead of scowling. But the real test is this: ask yourself which company you'd miss the most if it suddenly went out of business.
If you need more reasons to shop locally, check this list at Sustainable Connections and visit The Institute for Local Self-Reliance. And tell us all about the local businesses you love and why you're loyal to them.
Amy's Ice Creams image courtesy of Flickr user Robert Banh, CC 2.0