Are we succeeding with the ‘buy local’ movement?

“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy local, and that’s kind of the same thing.” — Unknown

Buy local.

You’ve probably seen reminder signs with messages like this around town. For most of us, we know we should buy locally, but do we follow through? As a local business owner, I think about this question a lot — not just for myself, but also on behalf of all the area artisans and other local establishments that sprout up in the Madison area. And I wonder: Will they survive? It’s heart-wrenching to see the “for lease” sign on a door of a well-intentioned local business simply because not enough of us chose them over a national retailer.

This wonderfully touching article by Jeff Haden from Inc. Magazine laments the closing of a small business near him — one he never checked out before the doors shut for good. Haden admits that he meant to stop in and at least look around but always found excuses not to, and now looks back on the experience as a missed opportunity.

I think we can all see ourselves in Haden. How many times have you walked by a local business here in Madison and thought, “I should stop in there,” but then life happens and it never crosses your mind again? While our intentions are good, we need to admit that our fast-paced lives may be one of the reasons we’re not succeeding with the buy-local movement as well as we should. It’s too easy to visit online giants like Amazon and have anything you could possibly imagine delivered to your door — sometimes the very same day. Is shopping this way convenient? Yes. But convenience doesn’t make our community stronger.

When you browse or buy from a local business, you’re helping:

  • Keep more money in the local economy;
  • Support local jobs;
  • Celebrate and appreciate the uniqueness of our community (which I would argue also helps make Madison a tourist destination);
  • Invest in entrepreneurs;
  • Shop owners exchange ideas and expertise with other shop/business owners and their customers; and
  • Protect and preserve the environment.

What’s more, local business owners are far more likely to give back to area organizations, which keeps more dollars close to home. They help strengthen partnerships between neighbors, residents, other business owners, community leaders, and schools. It’s also primarily local businesses that support local causes, like the Madison Children’s Museum and youth sports teams, as well as community events like Brat Fest, Madison Area Down Syndrome Society’s (MADSS) Annual Golf Outing, and YWCA’s Circle of Women fundraiser. (I can speak from experience that you don’t see Amazon at any of these events.)

While I’m not suggesting to drastically change your buying habits all at once, it helps to adopt a fresh perspective you can call upon when faced with a purchasing decision. Haden suggests thinking about the buy-local strategy more like buy “personal.” The idea is to put aside price/value calculations from time to time and take a chance on a new or struggling entrepreneur. He says, “Buy a few items from a local mom and pop, hire the small restaurant down the road to cater a noncritical event.” Or, simply call a new vendor and ask for a quote.

Let’s use these calls to action to set some goals, Madison.

I challenge you to join me in the coming days to do as Haden suggests: “Pick a local business and give it a chance.”

To take it a step farther, consider reaching out to two different types of local businesses that are all around the Greater Madison area:

  1. Visit or contact a new local business to check it out.
  2. Find an established local entrepreneur who you have meant to learn more about, but for whatever reason have not yet done so.

I once saw this on a sign outside of a store: “Friends don’t let friends shop at Amazon.”

Friend, this is your intervention — we can do better here in Dane County. I urge you to show your love for Madison and buy local today.

The small businesses that made America the envy of the world were largely made up a dynamic, rugged, bright, hard-working lot of entrepreneurs, who fought for the common hope of us all: The American Dream. — Jack Speer-Williams

Rose Molz is president of EZ Office Products.

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