Finding Home: Shop Local

There are messages we hear over and over again throughout our lives.

Clean your room. Brush your teeth. Pay your bills on time. Look both ways.

Even though these messages confront us again and again, they may not necessarily change our behavior. Or rather we choose to not follow a particular piece of advice.

'Shop local' is one of those messages for me.

Sure, I know intellectually that it's the good thing to do. Having lived in different places, I've made somewhat of a conscious effort to buy from local businesses.

However, more often than not, I've succumbed to the quick and easy options: Two clicks on Amazon. A quick trip to Target. Poof, the item's at my doorstep. Swipe, Target has $50 more of my moolah.

I've been reading through Melody Warnick's This Is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are, in an effort to feel at home in NYC. Her second chapter is dedicated to buying local.

For some reason, this message resonated with me in a new way. Perhaps I'm now ready to really hear this wisdom and to put it into practice in my life. Ready for the rubber to meet the road.

This line from Warnick's book really stuck with me: 

"A dollar spent at Dollar General is not the same as a dollar spent at a locally owned variety store."

  I was so excited about this unique find - made in Peru. Frida Kahlo! Gifting this to a special someone. Things you wouldn't find at Target.

I was so excited about this unique find - made in Peru. Frida Kahlo! Gifting this to a special someone. Things you wouldn't find at Target.

  I'm a sucker for all things peppermint. Even though I don't use bar soap on a day-to-day basis, I know just the person to gift this to.

I'm a sucker for all things peppermint. Even though I don't use bar soap on a day-to-day basis, I know just the person to gift this to.

She goes on to mention a study that was conducted in Utah, finding that big-box retailers returned just 14 percent of their revenue to the local economy, while local retailer returned a whopping 52 percent back into the local economy.

"If you spent $25 at a local Salt Lake City retailer, $14 of it stayed in Salt Lake. At a big chain, only $3.50 did."

I hear these numbers and look around my neighborhood of Crown Heights in Brooklyn. How am I spending my hard-earned dollars? Am I doing my share to re-invest money in the place I now call home or am I doing the opposite? It's often a combination, but I want to lean in the direction of keeping money where I live.

 Calabar Imports - 708 Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights

Calabar Imports - 708 Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights

The store I went to today is called Calabar Imports - which has a location in Harlem (where I previously lived). If the shop is anything, it has character. So many potential gems to sift through: jewelry, candles, clothing, knick knacks, and accessories. As Crown Heights continues to gentrify, in the back of my mind, I say a little prayer, hoping this shop will remain. It's housed with items you can't find in other places. Calabar's website rightly says, "we are the source for the distinct, select and unique handcrafted items." 

Yes, it's unique. Yes, it has character. But will it survive, when so many other stores close? I don't only hope that it survives (and thrives). I want to play a role in keeping it here.

These are a few more tidbits that spoke to me in this chapter:

"Cities that support local businesses have stronger personalities...our shopping habits are largely responsible for creating the place we live."

No one goes on vacation and comes back raving about the Wal-Mart or Target they stumbled upon. These big-box stores are just about the identical wherever you go. Instead, a friend who comes back from a trip gleefully recalls the tiny shop they found after walking aimlessly for hours. 

If we want the place we live to keep that quirky character or slanted attitude, investing locally with our dollars is the way to go. We can't take for granted that our cities or neighborhoods will retain their authenticity. The momentum is often on the side of big-boxes stores, who can afford rising rents while mom and pop stores just don't have those same resources.

All that said, I can't say I'll swear off Amazon, trading easy clicks and two-day shipping for putting on my shoes and pouring my money into local shops around me. Yes, I want to do more of that. I want to be a good steward and citizen with my money. 

It's a tension that will always be there, but I now feel more aware and motivated to spend in a way that says I care about where I live. I care about the business owners who risked so much to put their vision into the world.

I'm not able to singlehandedly save a business, but I'll do what I can.