At first glance there is a deep sense of pride evoked by the notion of buying local. In retrospect though is the act of buying locally being informed by those who are preaching it so feverishly? I would suggest no.
What Does it Mean to Shop Locally?
To buy local means to spend your hard earned dollars with local merchants. The belief is that if you spend your money with local business owners then they will in turn also spend it with local business owners. And as this money travels in this circular pattern communities have new life breathed into them. There are even statistics which have been used to illustrate how much of the money you spend with your local merchants stays inside your community. Of course anyone who knows anything about statistics will understand that accumulating such data is inherently full of flaws and self-supportive reasoning. As such, I rarely accept statistics at face value.
I would in fact like to point out that this circular action hinges on a number of assumptions.
#1: Local merchants have money to spend.
#2: Local merchants have the opportunity to spend their money with other local merchants.
#3: All local merchants are equally concerned about the health of their community.
#4: Local merchants are often times more concerned with the health of their community than the price of their purchases.
Now, it is necessary to quickly colorize a couple of these so we can get to the heart of this article. As is the case, #1 is easily handled if people are spending their money with local merchants. #3 cannot be proven unequivocally and therefore is not even worthy of this discussion. And #4 is easily apparent to virtually any active consumer and something I do not feel I need to spend any great time explaining. You will most likely never be able to walk into a local diner and purchase an entire lunch for the same price as you would receive a lunch at a popular fast food establishment. You are also equally likely to not be able to purchase goods from a local hardware company for the same discounted prices as you can make purchases at a large chain store.
With those three handled it is now time to discuss something which became apparent to me as of lately. Do local merchants have the opportunity to spend their money with other local merchants? I argue that the answer to this question is no in the majority of instances.
The American Dream
It is well known that America is the land of opportunity. In this country we have the ability to choose what we do with our lives and to start a business if that is our desire. With a minimal fee one can obtain a business license. Depending on the business and entire organization can be started with very low capital. One of the biggest draws to owning your own business is the ability to “be your own boss” and run things how you see fit. This offers the business owner the ability to hire who they want, fire who they want (within applicable laws), sell what they want, and set their own hours of operation. It is the last point which has raised my curiosity as of lately.
The ability of a business owner to set their own hours of operation is a fundamental part of owning your own business. An owner can open whenever they wish, stay open as long as they wish, and close whenever they wish. They even have the opportunity to decide which, if any, holidays they will be closed for. The number of options in regards to hours of operation are practically limitless. However, there is a peculiar thing that happens in this area of business. That peculiar thing is the fact that almost all local business owners chose the same hours of operation. Apparently it has become ingrained into us as a society that opportune working hours are between 8am and 5pm. This simple thought is where I draw a problem with the shop local mentality.
If practically every small business has the same exact hours of operation how would it be that they can spend their money with other local merchants. In essence, if everyone is working during the exact same time of day how is anyone shopping? How can local merchants come together to provide benefits to each other? I argue they cannot.
The only time local merchants are able to shop is after their normal hours of operation which is coincidentally also after the normal hours of operation for the rest of the local merchants. This means that their purchasing has to be done in the evening. And the only shops open in the evening are large chain stores.
This is certainly not a call to action of any sort. It is also not meant for you to stop spending your money with local merchants. They are hard-working Americans trying to make the most of the opportunities of this great nation. All this equates to is an observation. It simply suggests that local merchants are probably not spending as much locally as they may want you to believe. I am also not suggesting this is inherently bad. I am simply shedding light onto a concept which may have been easily overlooked.