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Why shop local?

Support small business during the holiday season and throughout the year

A couple looks in the window of the Hotel Saranac’s Academy and Main gift shop in Saranac Lake. (Provided photo — Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, saranaclake.com)

For generations, small businesses were the principal employers in every North Country community. They were an economic engine, bringing in money from local, out-of-area and international consumers. They employed local workers, who in turn spent money in the local region. And they supplied local communities with tax funds that were used to grow even more economic opportunity.

Unfortunately, as a region (and a nation), we’ve lost way too many small businesses, way too many thriving, prosperous downtowns. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem.

How and where we choose to spend our hard-earned dollars can actually dictate whether we strengthen our local economies, giving rise to more prosperous communities, or curtail opportunities for small business growth and development, which inevitably devastates local economies over time.

Studies have continuously shown that when policymakers institute laws that benefit small-scale, locally owned business owners, those communities become (or remain) more prosperous, innovative, connected and generally better off. And when local businesses prosper, new ones open, thereby enhancing the local character and economic stability of the community.

What’s more, while local and dispersed business ownership strengthens the middle class, the ever-increasing size and presence of corporations is driving unprecedented inequality. The gap between the best-paid workers and everyone else is much greater at big corporations than it is at small and medium-sized businesses.

Show your support, and keep money in the community

Of course, not all local businesses are useful to everyone. You’re not likely to find a local manufacturer of mobile devices or apps. But if you’re in the market for a good bottle of wine, craft beers, beautiful jewelry, a masterfully constructed dining room set or shelving unit, an Adirondack chair, a hand-crafted magazine stand or coat rack, sturdy wooden toys, a hand-painted wall hanging, unique pottery, a rustic lamp or set of lamps, a picture frame (with or without the picture), whimsical knickknacks, a handmade quilt, sweater or blanket, delicious artisan foodstuffs (maple syrup or cream, honey, jams, jellies, baked goods, spices), books, candles, or floral arrangements and centerpieces, a locally made, small business purchase is clearly an option.

A local children’s clothing store won’t be useful if you don’t have kids. But you can shop for clothes for yourself and your significant other at a local boutique, army-navy, sporting goods, thrift, charity or specialty clothing or apparel store. And if your town has a local hardware store, why not look there first when making repairs or upgrades, instead of driving to a big-box home-improvement store?

Shopping locally for food is one of the best ways to support local economies. Almost every town has at least a couple of local eateries and/or bar-restaurants. Choose those places when you eat out or for take-out. And buy your produce and meats from local farmers.

Adirondack Harvest is a Cornell Cooperative Extension, community-based local food and farm promotion-and-development-program with a strong commitment to small-scale, sustainable farming, and a focus on developing and expanding markets for local farm products. CCE educators and Adirondack Harvest coordinators and farmer-members recognize that the goal of improved agricultural, economic and community-development is best served when all stakeholders in the food-system join forces. They welcome and appreciate participation in farm-to-retail, farm-to-food-service and farm-to-institution programs, which cut out the middlemen and make fresher, healthier food available to homes, restaurants, schools, hospitals, stores, etc. A comprehensive list of where to buy locally grown and produced foods is available from your county CCE office or online at adirondackharvest.com/local-food-guides.

If you want to literally keep your money in the community, you can do so by banking at credit unions or locally owned banks. Credit unions and community banks make most of their income by loaning money to local businesses and people, so they have a vested interest in the success of local communities. And they offer the same services as national banks (e.g. credit cards, online bill payment), often with better interest rates and fees.

The cost of buying local

The single most common contention I hear about buying local is that local goods are more expensive than those offered by national chains. However, I find that, in most cases, local goods are priced competitively with big-box-store goods. And local, small-store retailers often offer products that the owners themselves have hand-selected and tested for quality. Their employees are often more knowledgeable about what they sell than big-box-store employees. And they make decisions about returns and service in-house, rather than at some distant corporate headquarters. As far as I’m concerned, even if I don’t get the cheapest price, the quality and customer service provided can more than make up for the extra dollar or two I spend at the register.

Building strong and vibrant New York communities

The CCE vision statement is “Building Strong and Vibrant New York Communities.” And CCE educators are always striving to improve quality of life for those who live and work in the counties they serve. They encourage everyone to support small, local business and, in doing so, play a role in building and sustaining strong, vital, vibrant communities that work well for everyone.

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