The first time it occurred to me to “buy local,” I was in a popular Italian chain restaurant and realized my food was terrible. Even the worst local restaurant, I suddenly realized, would be equally tasty and certainly more unique.
For a long time, that was the logic that drove me to local restaurants. And to this day, I think that’s a fine reason to eat and shop at locally owned businesses; though there are certainly some local duds — in Provo or anywhere else — local companies offer unique experiences by their very nature.
But as it turns out, the reasons to buy local aren’t just limited to the potential for a better consumer experience. Indeed, one of the best reasons to buy from locally-owned and operated businesses is because doing so supports the local economy.
So, for example, let’s say you want to eat out at an Italian restaurant and you’re in Provo. You can choose the Olive Garden or another chain, or you can choose La Dolce Vita or another local business.
Setting aside the food itself — which we could quibble over endlessly — choosing to dine at La Dolce Vita puts more money into the local economy because the business operators presumably are a part of the community. The profit made by that restaurant ends up being reinvested in the business itself or goes into the pocket of the people who live down the street. In turn, those people spend their money in the community and the cycle repeats.
With the chain restaurant, on the other hand, virtually all of the profit is shipped out to corporate headquarters and shareholders. In that way, chains and larger corporations are basically machines that funnel the money of one community into another. (This can of course work to a community’s advantage if it happens to be the site of a chain’s headquarters. Both Sammy’s and J Dawgs seem to be going that way in Utah Valley right now.)
In any case, that’s a simplistic but nonetheless effective way to understand the concept of buying local. And in fact, the difference between buying local and “buying corporate” is pretty dramatic, according to LocalFirst.com. Drawing on a 2008 survey on Grand Rapids, the website points out that for every $100 spent at a local business, only $32 leaves the community for things like supplies. By contrast, for every $100 spent at a non-local business, $57 left the community.
Obviously that adds up quickly, but the survey also notes that a mere 10 percent shift in consumer behavior toward local businesses would generate $140 million in new economic activity, 1,600 new jobs, and $50 million in new wages. And people wouldn’t even have to do much to reap those rewards:
All these benefits may be captured for the people of Kent County with a small change in habits. Just one time out of ten, before heading to a chain store or restaurant, take that business to a local. We believe quality, service, and value for the dollar will be their own reward, but that small act will strengthen the local economy and build a better, more sustainable Greater Grand Rapids.
The survey mentions that Grand Rapids is representative of the larger U.S., but closer to home Local First Utah offers 10 more reasons to actually make the shift to buying local. The list includes economic benefits, but also points out that buying local is more environmentally conscientious, fosters diversity and community, and can help transform a mere location into a desirable destination.
The organization’s Provo Facebook page also recently mentioned exactly how buying local could benefit the city:
Ultimately, the benefits of buying local are immense and range from the visceral — like my initial reaction at the Italian restaurant years ago — to the economic. Over the next few weeks I plan to periodically mention a few local businesses that I particularly appreciate, but in the meantime, it’s worth remembering that every dollar spent at a local business is a dollar spent building the community.
A row of local restaurants, entertainment venues and shops in downtown Provo.