The economics of shopping localSubmitted by Margaret Bennett on December 7th, 2016
I LOVE shopping local. I feel very passionate about it because the economics of it are so profound in my experience. I find people are often surprised when I tell them this because we associate "deals" with the big box stores. So leading up to Christmas I thought I'd share a bit about how I shop local and why I feel it's worth it.
Farmer's markets. I regularly visit the farmer's market on Saturday morning. The Hamilton Farmer's Market is indoors year-round, so I have that ability and it's something I look forward to. There are a few places that sell fish, a few that have cheese, a bunch with vegetables and so on. Over time I've learned which stalls have the best "deals" for us. For example: my husband likes sandwiches for work and I usually get him sliced cheese and two kinds of sliced meat, one a less expensive cut (like ham), and one a more expensive cut (like turkey or cured meats). Some weeks I will get his cheese at one stall and his sliced meat at another stall so that I can get the best price and quality, but because I'm in the same physical building it's not like I'm going out of the way to find the best price on every item on my list. I also buy my fruits/vegetables in season and because it's usually local, and usually packed on-site, I am able to buy fresh, and just what I need so that less food is going to waste. It may be a good deal at the super market, but if half of it is going to be thrown out before we can finish it, is it really a good deal? I find our food costs and our food waste has gone way down. And our garbage too. I use reusable bags for shopping and by buying at the farmer's market I am buying less packaging. As a result, some weeks we don't even have a shopping bag's worth of garbage to put out because instead we have more green and recyclables. When there is a really good deal on something like fruits or meats, I buy it and package it at home in reusable containers to go in the freezer and use later on. I figure we've cut down on our bills by shopping smarter at the market. It then means that I just get canned goods at the grocery store where there are often good sales or flyer apps I can use to get the best price. At the end of the day I feel better knowing where my food comes from and that I am helping others make a living in the agricultural centre.
Local Garden Centre. My husband owns a landscaping company, his sister owns a flower shop and for 87 years four generations of his family owned and operated a garden centre, so I know there is quite a different in expertise. Because of this, I'm probably biased, but what many people don't realize it that by shopping where they have experts in the products, we get a better recommendation of the plants that will be right for our space, soil, light and other growing conditions. My husband hates watching those deck reno shows and seeing plants that he knows are going to die in one season because they are sun plants in shade, or vice-versa. Usually your deck guy isn't an expert in plants, just like my husband who is an expert in plants wouldn't build you a deck. He would call in someone who has that appropriate expertise. Same at the garden centre – you want the person to know what plants are going to work and not a guy who also sells lumber because you'll end up replacing the plants when they don't grow in your space. Which brings me to another point which is that often times plants at garden centres have a warranty. Not every place that sells plants offer a warranty and, again, if you get the wrong advice for your conditions, you're stuck buying the plant again the next year.
Local vendors. Local vendors is where I probably get the most objection as the money saving isn't necessarily as good. For Christmas I have bought something that I know I could have gotten cheaper elsewhere; however, I also know that the economics are bigger than me. By intentionally shopping local, I'm keeping places in business that are providing jobs and contributing to the local economy in my area. I'm helping that hard working business owner send their kid to school, volunteer in the community, buy their own products and more. I'm also selfishly keeping businesses in stores and reducing the storefront vacancy rate which in turn keeps my property value up, keeps crime down (because people are shopping in the area and there are security cameras and increased traffic in the area) and provides jobs for local people as well. It means transit improves and other infrastructure initiatives because the area supports it and businesses are providing important services and revenues back to our community. It's an important cycle that is often undervalued. At the end of the day, I'm a small business owner and I know the time, care and commitment I have to providing the best possible experience and product and I think that I offer tremendous value over someone who may be less invested because they are salaried and can find another job next week if they had to. I rely on providing a good service to get recommendations that grow my business. My husband is the same way, his sister is the same and five out of six of our parents (my husband's parents are divorced) own their own businesses and again need to make sure you have a good experience with us to feel you got value and to recommend us onto others. And then I know we all give back to our industries and neighbourhoods through volunteering, donations, mentoring and other ways. A chain service typically doesn't have that same commitment to your experience and your neighbourhood and there is tremendous value in that.
Whenever possible and practical I choose to shop local. I encourage you to do the same and see how you contribute to the local economy while also saving money in the long run!