Shop local to generate local prosperity

Posted Oct. 21, 2011, at 10:47 p.m.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a great story in the Bangor Daily News that really warmed my heart.

After several years without one, Lincolnville Center is getting a general store again, thanks to new(ish) residents Joel and Briar Fishman. The Fishman family also owns Elderflower Farm and along with other local farmers and food producers hope to be able to offer Lincolnville Center the convenience of a local store and the distinct pleasures of local food.

Around the same time the story on the new Lincolnville Center store appeared, there was also interesting general store news from Hope, where the always inventive Andy Stewart has teamed up with a local organization to provide a water tap as an alternative to throwaway plastic bottles of spring water. The tap connects to a filtering and well system and provides good, clean Maine water in return for a nominal donation which will be used to fund community projects.

As I read these two separate but connected stories on the same day I got to thinking about the vital role played by local businesses in general and these neighborhood groceries in particular. After all, where is it that one sees the poster for the local theater company, or the collection tin for the neighbor dealing with an illness, or the particular and mildly obscure brand of this or that they keep in stock just for you?

When a store or business opens we should all be excited and proud. Conversely, when one goes out of business, we should both decry the closure and also examine our own behavior. Did we opt to buy something online or mindlessly trundle up to the mall in Augusta for something we could have found locally?

Think about which three independently owned or locally based businesses you’d miss most if they were gone. Stop in and say hello. Pick up a little something that will make someone smile. Try to find those school supplies locally first. Log off Amazon, trade your slippers for shoes, and get some fresh air downtown. Your shopping decisions are what keep those businesses around.

If just half the employed U.S. population spent $50 each month in local businesses, their purchases would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue nationally. Imagine the positive impact if three-quarters of the employed population did that.

For every $100 spent in independently owned or locally operated stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, $43 stays here. Spend it online, unless it’s the website of a local company, and nothing comes home.

So next time you have a hankering to head off on a shopping expedition, maybe dinner and a movie too, bear in mind that people come from all over the world and pay for the privilege and experience of shopping and dining amid the scenery of our hometowns. We get to shop in these places without paying room and board, and while we are at it we get the concrete benefits that come from supporting our neighbors. Because after all, when we have a fundraiser, or need a poster put up, or want convenience at 9 on a Sunday morning those neighbors deliver for us.

Dan Bookham is executive director of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce that combines the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville and Rockland-Thomaston Area Chambers of Commerce. Contact him at 236-4404 or dbookham@camdenme.org.

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