Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What the "Shop Local" Movement is Missing

Shop Local! It’s a command I have dutifully followed for a long time. But recently, I have started to think there is something sinister underneath the good it is trying to do. Before my liberal and community-minded friends get made at me, let me set the parameters of my argument.

One. It does not apply to food. We must buy food that is grown as close as possible to where we live. Period. If you want argument on that front, go to another blog.

Two. I used to own a business. An art business. That sold non-locally produced art. It failed. I am not bitter. No one ever owed me a living. Seriously.

Okay. Before I start my argument, I will tell you a story. I went to a local business to purchase a bottle of moisturizer. It was the second time I had been in this business in the past year or so. The first time I was there, I did not like the owner. She was neither helpful or warm. I work hard for my money, and I do not have a lot of it. When I spend it, especially on slightly luxurious things, I like the experience to be a pleasant one. This woman was not pleasant – not rude, just not pleasant. I made my purchase anyway, because it was a local business. I only went back several months later because, well, I needed more moisturizer, and because I saw that this business had become a supporter of a charity I really care about. I was pleased to see the owner in the store when I went in. I picked up my moisturizer and as I was checking out, I told her that I was patronizing her business instead of ordering online or going to Richmond because of her support for my favorite charity. Her response was: “Well, you are supposed to shop locally.” I was stunned.

So this got me thinking. What is my responsibility to my community, to local retailers? Especially when they don’t serve my needs very well? I like to shop locally because I do want my tax dollars going to educate my community’s children and build bike paths. But when the shopping experience is not pleasant, what do I owe those children?

The moisturizer was at least the same price at the shop or on-line. What about when a product is substantially cheaper at Am I supposed to fork over another $50 so that a local business can afford its rent?

And there we have it. The real problem, the people who are not contributing A DAMN THING to the Shop Local movement? The LANDLORDS who like to charge outrageous rents in a small town. Why don’t they make it easier for businesses to compete by charging more reasonable rent? Why do consumers have to shoulder the burden? I know how hard it is to run a successful business in this small town. I bet the owner of the shop where I bought my moisturizer was unpleasant because she was having a tough time paying her bills. Or she is just a bitch, but I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt.

The Shop Local movement allows the landlords – many of whom in this town don’t give a damn about their communities – to keep getting richer while I agonize over whether to buy my coffeepot locally or on-line. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the way liberals buy into this.

I don’t have an answer, but I would really like to see the rich people of this town do a little more than just give money to charity. They should become a part of a larger economic solution.