Vote for independents. November is still a ways off, but you can vote every day with your dollars. Buy more from locally owned, independent businesses and less from corporate chains. The well-being of your neighbors and your Valley is at stake.
When you spend $100 at a chain store to buy books, pet supplies, clothes or tools, only $13 stays here. That same $100 spent at local, independent stores generates $45, more than three times as much local economic activity.
Why? Independent businesses create more and better jobs than corporate chains. They hire more employees not only to serve customers but to write ads, buy inventory, and keep the books. Chains house these activities elsewhere, at their headquarters.
Local businesses also buy more of the goods and services they need locally — banking, accounting, printing and supplies — helping other local businesses to prosper. Chains operate on a national or international scale.
Local businesses reinvest their profits locally. Chains instead siphon off profits to expand elsewhere or pay dividends to their shareholders.
Buying from independents keeps more money recirculating within our community to create more business opportunities, more tax revenue and, studies show, more charitable giving.
Once a nation of shopkeepers and small business people, we are fast becoming a nation of sales clerks. The middle class is giving way to more low-wage, chain-store jobs, and government has to step in with food and health care, straining public coffers.
This change goes not just to the economy, but to character. Small businesses were the backbone of each American town and the training grounds for our highly valued entrepreneurial spirit. As Main Streets hollow out and people commute for chain-store jobs and shopping, the web of personal relations frays. The sense of belonging and of responsibility diminishes.
A study of 225 counties across the country, “Big Business and Community Welfare,” showed that counties dominated by big businesses had greater income inequality, fewer owner-occupied homes, more worker disability, lower educational outcomes and higher crime than counties with more small businesses — where people are also more likely to vote and to be active in churches, social clubs and civic groups.
Even though large corporations have shaped the political and economic environment to their advantage, and just a few now control almost every economic sector, local communities can rebuild their homegrown economies.
In addition to voting with our pocketbooks, we can press local government to adopt planning policies to support small business.
General Plans can express a commitment to small business and downtown commerce. They can limit the number of chain stores and direct retail development to downtown areas. They can require economic impact reviews to scrutinize the benefits claimed by large commercial developments, which all too often drive locals out of business and cost more in government services than anticipated.
We can also support downtown revitalization efforts and activities that keep Main Streets vibrant. Finally, we can encourage independent retailers to work together to devise “Buy Local” strategies.
Recent tea parties protesting a greater role for government in our lives ignore a critical fact about that original Tea Party in Boston. Colonists boarded the three ships owned by the British East India Tea Co. — dumping more than 90,000 pounds of tea into the harbor — because Parliament had exempted the company from taxes that local tea merchants had to pay.
The American revolutionaries objected to exploitation by distant corporate powers and refused to let lower prices undercut their allegiance to local merchants and local control. Let’s not forget what they fought so hard to achieve. Independence is born of independents.
Community Matters explores local topics of public interest. Attorney Joan Hartmann is a founding member of Buellton Is Our Town, and a former employee of the U.S. Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency.
March 18, 2010