We have all heard slogans such as “shop local” on Small Business Saturday, designated as the Saturday after Thanksgiving since 2010.
Local businesses often hold sales on Small Business Saturday, or invite Santa in to greet shoppers. In 2021 shopping locally held an additional attraction: You could bring your purchases home with you, and not risk them not arriving by Christmas due to shipping backups.
Many people have a vague notion that choosing to “shop local” at any time of the year, not just on one special Saturday — as opposed to clicking for a purchase – is a good thing that helps local communities prosper. But what does it really mean?
It comes down to a “sense of place,” says Amanda Converse, the co-founder and CEO of a non-profit called Love Live Local. “Shopping online you’re sending that money right over the bridge and depriving local stores of money that could be recirculated,” she said during a telephone interview last week.
Our local businesses are the ones that develop “community character.” They’re the ones that sponsor Little League games and give back to the community, she adds.
Converse took a deep dive into this sometimes-thorny topic after she earned a master’s degree in public policy from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and began working for the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District. A native of Falmouth, Converse moved to Marstons Mills after completing her schooling in 2005. Earlier this month Converse released her 27-page report called “Local Matters: Investigating Influence.” The report is “a look into nationwide corporate concentration, consolidation and power and its impact on the local business community on Cape Cod.”
Love Live Local’s mission is “to foster an economically-sustainable, creative and exciting future for the Cape and help all those who love this place participate in keeping it special,” according to its website.
Let’s talk about Amazon.com for a moment. According to Converse, if Cape Codders shifted just 10 percent of their retail spending from Amazon to a local store, that would bring $112 million into Barnstable County in just one year.
What does Converse tell people who say they can’t afford to pay local retail prices? She says people should “question that assumption” that online shopping is cheaper. That’s not always the case. And in those instances where it is true, shoppers should ask, “but what value am I bringing to my community” by shopping locally?
The pandemic might seem to have thrown a wrench into local retail sales. But local retailers had an edge over click-shopping. For example, many local businesses “beefed up” their online presences and offered curbside pickup in 2020. Friends’ Marketplace in Orleans offered personal shoppers who met customers with their groceries.
“They were definitely meeting the moment as well,” Converse says. “A lot of local businesses stepped up in a way corporations did not.” Local restaurants donated food and local retailers sewed masks. “Who do you want on your side in a crisis?” she asks. You want local businesses.
For her report, Converse looked at eight industries: retail, food, restaurants, banking, broadband, waste removal, pharmacies and newspapers. While her report covers Cape Cod, she interviewed business owners in Chatham, Harwich and Orleans such as Nauset Disposal owner Shawn Delude.
“There is still the desire to live the dream of being an entrepreneur and to play an important part in the community,” Delude says in the report. Nauset Disposal is deeply invested in the community. The company’s website has a dedicated page listing its “Trash Bash” — an annual party that benefits local nonprofits. In 2021 the company raised nearly $50,000.
Gretel Norgeot, owner of Checkerberry Farms in Orleans and the market manager of Orleans Farmers Market, notes that “people welcome the ability to connect and have one-on-one time with their local farmers at the farmers markets, as well as to get fresh, quality, more nutritious food that hasn’t traveled thousands of miles to reach your plate.”
Also interviewed were Brian and Monila Junkins, owners of Friends’ Marketplace. The Junkins tell Converse that “Orleans is better off being anchored by a locally-owned market.” This means the market needs to be “nimble and find areas of creativity where there’s value added” for the customer, like prepared foods, tastings and personalized service.
The report also looked at the state of local journalism. The trouble started when internet advertising siphoned ad revenue from print newspapers. As newspapers’ revenue dropped, private equity firms stepped in to buy them. What followed these purchases was a stripping of newsrooms down to the bone. Gannett Media Corp. now owns weekly papers on Cape Cod as well as the regional daily. The Cape Cod Chronicle, however, celebrating its 57th anniversary this year, is one of three independently-owned newspapers remaining on Cape Cod.
And is there a way to fix things, to level the playing field for local businesses? Converse says policymakers should start to address issues of online versus local spending at the policy level, “or our local businesses will continue to struggle.”
She emphasizes that local businesses remain optimistic — “they love what they do, and they’re not afraid of competition.”
Converse is optimistic, too. “The pandemic opened people’s eyes to inequities.”
To read Converse’s report and the interviews that went into it, visit www.lovelivelocal.com.