This weekend I finished reading The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition by Michael Shuman. The book documents how it is far healthier for local communities and economies when people buy and shop at locally owned businesses. Dollars that are spent at independent mom-and-pop stores tend to be recycled throughout the community with other local vendors, while dollars spent at big box and chain stores tend to be siphoned away to corporate headquarters and national or multinational vendors.
What's interesting is that I was reading this book while in a small town in Wisconsin for a family reunion on my wife's side of the family. Just before the reunion I took our younger son to a local haircut place for a haircut, and while we were out we browsed several local independent bookstores and bought a few items there. I also got a carwash at a fundraiser in a local church's parking lot. The Small-Mart book was on my mind, so I was feeling virtuous about supporting this small town's local economy with my out-of-town dollars.
But then I noticed that I was more intentional about buying locally as an out-of-town visitor than I am at home, where it's all too easy to buy at chains for convenience reasons. Or at least in some ways rather than others. I never shop at Wal-Mart and pretty much always shop at Target. But Shuman isn't impressed with Target either (though it's better). It's just hard to consciously go to independents for everyday supplies.
But we can all pick certain areas that we'll be intentional in. While at ICRS last week, my friend Jana happened to ask me where I'm purchasing my copy of the last Harry Potter book, and I told her I was going to buy it from a local independent bookstore that carries both used and new books. The thrifty shopper in me is tempted by Target, which is selling Harry Potter for almost half off the cover price, but I happen to have some used book trade-in credit at the independent bookstore that can be applied to a new book. So I get the best of both worlds - supporting a local retailer and getting a bargain. (But I'm not sure if I'll be able to go to any midnight Harry Potter parties since the Midwest Emergent Gathering is taking place this same weekend.)