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Shopping local benefits the community

Nov 19, 2010

The holidays are right around the corner and everyone is the mood to shop.

 While sales at national chains may be tempting, OPEN Forum encourages shoppers to check out local retailers Nov. 27 as part of the new (AmEx proclaimed) holiday, Small Business Saturday.

 “A small business is part of the heartbeat of the larger community,” said Ellen Thrasher, associate administrator for the Department of Entrepreneurship at the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Small Business Administration.


 Money spent at local, small businesses goes right back into communities.

 According to The 3/50 Project, a Minneapolis-based small business advocacy organization, for every $100 spent at local, independent stores, $68 returns to the community. The same amount spent at national chains results in $43 staying within community borders.

  Here are a few others ways small businesses help communities:

 One-of-a-kind items

“Independent retailers often offer merchandise with texture and uniqueness,” said Peter Gill, spokesperson for the Chicago-based Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “Many of these items you can’t find anywhere else. They draw people to the community and give style to a shopping district.”

 Community identity

“A community’s downtown is everyone’s front yard,” said John Maguire, community development director for Long Grove, Ill. “The visual impression of a community is very important. With thriving small businesses, the impression can be one of vitality and wealth. It can create positive vibes for the entire community.

 “People have been lulled by corporate brand names. Whenever you walk into a chain, you have no idea what community you are in. But when you walk into a small business, it gives the community an identity and a unique sense of place.”

 Local involvement

“Small businesses are usually the ones who give back to local schools and community events,” Thrasher said. “For example, when a children’s soccer team needs a sponsor, they go to small businesses in the community. It is all part of a good neighbor policy.”

 Gill agreed.

 “Local retailers typically support local places, from food pantries to little league teams,” he said. “Therefore, by shopping at local, small businesses, you are indirectly helping those organizations.”

 Local jobs

“When you shop at small, local shops, you are putting money into the pockets of local workers who may be your neighbors or even family members,” Gill said. “That income will likely be spent in town, making it a chain reaction.”

 Personal relationships

“Many small businesses are not only owned, but also managed on the ground by the owner,” Thrasher said. “Those people are invested in building relationships with community members. These days, shopping is as much about the product that you are buying as it is about the relationships and transaction at the shop.”

 Increase tax base

“When you shop at local small businesses, tax money is staying in your town,” Gill said.  “You are benefiting your own police department and school. The sales tax is going to your local municipality. Shopping at small, local businesses creates a bigger tax revenue benefit for the entire community.”

 Building community

“Small businesses give a town a sense of community,” said Gina Lempa, an Elgin, Ill.-based independent sales representative. “When you walk into a small flower shop, for example, they might even know your name. You get a sense of family. Being recognized is important. When you walk into a small business, you can share with them and they share with you.”

 Benefit to other businesses

“Shopping at one store may help other, neighboring businesses,” Gill said. “After shopping at small businesses in town, you may want to stop at a local coffee shop, bowling alley or restaurant. Small businesses keep people in town, which benefits the community as a whole.”

Katie Morell is a freelance writer based in Chicago, specializing in small business concerns.

Celebrate “Small Business Saturday” by visiting your favorite locally owned businesses on Saturday, November 27th.