Should I Support Local Businesses?

Tara Barnett

It is has become increasingly common to see advertisements and marketing materials espousing the virtues of shopping locally as opposed to buying from national chains or online vendors. Many people question the legitimacy of these claims, as the issue is often more complicated just deciding to shop local. Certainly, local businesses are vocal in advocacy for shopping local. National chains, on the other hand, tend to remain silent on this issue, as profits seem unaffected by the shop local campaign. There are many different arguments concerning supporting local businesses, and the decision to support one or the other is not necessarily absolute.

Local business owners often argue that money spent at their stores stays in the community.
Local business owners often argue that money spent at their stores stays in the community.

Among the reasons to support local businesses, the most frequently touted statistic is that money spent at a locally owned business stays in the community. Proponents of this purchasing strategy claim that more money stays within the community, potentially being spent at other community businesses, when the business is owned locally. Another common argument is that these businesses employ local people throughout all phases of business, starting with its construction. Local businesses are also said to create more diversity in products offered, and to take into consideration the needs of the community.

Supporting local coffee houses filters money back into the community.
Supporting local coffee houses filters money back into the community.

In many communities, there are some businesses that represent the community as a whole. These businesses may have been around for a long time, or serve a particularly unique product. Supporting these businesses is often considered a community virtue, because they are symbolic of the location's spirit and heritage. The argument for supporting these businesses is often not a moral or economic justification, but an expression of love of tradition and pride in community.

Some people believe that it makes little sense to support local businesses over larger corporations, particularly when the chain's product and pricing is superior. National chains often employ local people, providing opportunities for employment that might not exist otherwise. A chain that is publicly traded also has the capacity to make a large number of people prosperous, whereas a locally owned business may only directly benefit one person, who may or may not decide to invest that money in the community. There is a subconscious misconception in some communities that chain businesses are in business for money, whereas local businesses are a type of charity that benefits the community. It is important to recognize that both types of companies are businesses, and the primary goal is profit no matter what veneer they place on their purpose.

One question in this debate is whether a franchise is a local or non-local store if it is owned by someone from the community. This problem gets at a complication of the "locally owned" debate. Many people are not swayed by the local ownership component of a business, but by the perceived tackiness of a chain. In this case, supporting community businesses is an aesthetic decision, not a moral or economic one. Avoiding a franchise that is locally owned actively prevents a neighbor from making a profit.

It is important to recognize that supporting local businesses and national chain stores is a perfectly respectable strategy. There is no reason to get locked into absolutes. Moreover, some local businesses may deserve more support than others, just as some large corporations may be better than others. Making informed purchasing decisions often means seeing in shades of gray, not just the black and white of local and chain.

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