Shop local, shop smart

By Jonathan Radmacher of Portland, Oregon. Jonathan is a lawyer who lives and shops in inner-SE Portland, and works downtown.

Like most blue Oregonians, I was never particularly enamored of GW’s call to shop. It reflected the worst of our consumer society – consuming for the sake of consumption, buying badly manufactured products that were produced with quasi-slave labor.    But for me, this weekend’s New York Times, this time highlighting Portland for Michael Powell’s worries about the economy, is a call to action in the form of shopping.  That’s not a brilliant thought or a unique thought, but it’s a thought that I too often squelch, as being intricately tied to the economic policies of that dunderhead. I (we) need to get over that.

First, when you buy services, you’re helping your neighbor. That guy, whose 4-person business painted my porch last year? He’s a great painter, and a really nice guy. And with the construction trade in its present condition, he really needs the work.    Not that I have $500 burning a hole in my pocket; and even if I did, I’m kind of nervous about where we’re heading, too.   That kind of nervousness, by everyone, puts that great painter out of business. So I need to stretch and get a room painted.   He’s not sending my $500 to China, or to Wal-Mart shareholders. He’s going to pay himself, his wife, and his employees. And they’re all going to spend that money for the basic necessities of life.

Second, more than ever, buy local. No matter how nervous I am about spending, let’s face it, I have to spend for the necessities of life. With every dollar being a little more precious, my spending on goods needs to be more focused on where those dollars are going after they land in that cash register. Are they going to feed and house my neighbors? I hope so. Not that you can control where all 100 cents from each dollar goes, but I do think that by paying more attention to where I spend, I’ll play a part in making a difference.

Third is a reality check --  my spending decisions will make very little difference. My deciding to get a room painted will not make or break the painter’s business. My deciding to shop at a store where the owner lives in Portland, will not trickle much money into the pockets of other Portlanders. But by the same token, my vote won’t make a candidate win or lose (even in Minnesota), and my changing my lightbulbs to high-efficiency bulbs won’t stop global warming.   That’s why this has to be a group effort – everyone buying high-efficiency bulbs at local hardware stores really might make a difference.

Of course, none of this is ground-breaking thought, by a long shot. “Buy local” is tired, it’s so ubiquitous. That’s because it needs to be ubiquitous. We need to be thinking about it each time we pull out our wallets. And I believe we need to be thinking about pulling out our wallets a little more. The book I saw on the NYT best seller list? I should buy it; whether from Powell’s or some other local bookstore, I should buy it. And as I walk out of the store, I should remember that I’m doing my part to help those around me.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    One thing though:

    When you're dealing with services from a small business, that purchase you make could very make a huge difference. It could be the difference between that business making rent this month, the sole proprietor meeting his/her own expenses for the month, etc.

    Many of these really small businesses may very well only be a few hundred dollars, or a few thousand dollars, away from being in the black for the month. So getting a room painted, or some yard work done, or a web site built, or your taxes done by that small business could very well make a huge difference.

  • Brian C. (unverified)
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    Good post.

  • BOHICA (unverified)
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    And if you go out to eat, support a owner owned local business.

    Anecdotally, my friend's small (27 seats) chat and chew is doing quite well. People can't afford Applebee's or the like so they go for a $5-$7 burger instead.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Jenni, that is one reason I buy my printer cartridges from a locally owned store rather than Office Depot (although Office Depot is closer and open more hours).

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)
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    The state used to have a business-to-business Oregon Marketplace program that matched local purchasers witch local providers. It was started during the last big recession in the 80s and worked extremely well, creating a lot of jobs in Oregon with very little government investment.

    It was even touted in Jane Jacobs' book, Cities and the Wealth of Nations.

    This topic was discussed on BlueOregon several years ago: http://www.blueoregon.com/2005/11/buying_local_an.html

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)
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    I, uh, wrote the word "witch" up there instead of "which." Must be because I saw "Wicked" last night--my one foray into non-local theater for the year.

  • (Show?)

    I, too, like to buy locally. Keeping dollars local boosts the economy that I am a part of, so doing so keeps my real estate values up and let me live in an exciting, vibrant city. I also value trying to make a region as self-sufficient as possible. When the world economy falls apart and is replaced by social chaos, I figure it will be better to have as many necessities as close at hand as possible. That said, I think it is a somewhat self-center position, and does not represent the moral high ground. It is trade, our willingness to buy from other people and countries, that has brought 2-3 billion people (including many in China)out of poverty during the past several decades into some still fragile version of the middle class. There are several billion people still living in utter poverty that may never get a chance at the good life if all I do is buy locally.

  • (Show?)

    I still do my buying of that stuff from Office Depot. Could have something to do with all the people working hard there trying to support their families... including my husband. So I could be biased there. ; )

  • Steve (unverified)
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    Could someone give Sam Adams a call and tell him to buy hybrid Ford Escapes instead of Priuses and Smart cars? Plus try to remind him to enable local people like Greenbrier locally for streetcars instead of insisting on European designed/built cars?

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Steve:

    Could someone give Sam Adams a call and tell him to buy hybrid Ford Escapes instead of Priuses and Smart cars? Plus try to remind him to enable local people like Greenbrier locally for streetcars instead of insisting on European designed/built cars?

    Bob T:

    First, call him to tell him you won't vote for him again or will sign the recall petition because of his corporate sports welfare multiple stadium deal. Oh, that's right. It's all forgotten already.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Steve (unverified)
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    "First, call him to tell him you won't vote for him again or will sign the recall petition because of his corporate sports welfare multiple stadium deal."

    Hey, give him a chance, we got told there will be 300 new jobs (at least that's what Sam and Randy believe) that $85M will buy.

  • Mayor McCheese on White Buns (unverified)
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    Posted by: Steve | Mar 30, 2009 10:27:22 PM

    "First, call him to tell him you won't vote for him again or will sign the recall petition because of his corporate sports welfare multiple stadium deal."

    Hey, give him a chance, we got told there will be 300 new jobs (at least that's what Sam and Randy believe) that $85M will buy.

    Oh, so this is the first time they'll be held to predictions? Or do we give it the OHSU adjustment factor?

  • (Show?)

    OK, that's enough, let's not go skittering down into the soccer-stadium rabbit hole. We've had plenty of places to have that conversation.

  • Buy American (unverified)
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    Ode to Sam’s local spending

    Play’n fields for sale and rent Jobs to get…through the fence Low pay, no bens, no breaks Tax tax tax is what it takes Ah, but ten hours of pushin’ scams Buys a fif…ty million dollar tram He’s a man of means by no means, King of the town

    End door on an upper floor City Hall at Portland Ore Old worn out schemes the ruse He don’t care just who he screws Young stooges he has found Short, but for another round He’s a man of means by no means, King of the town

    He knows every backer on every block All of their lineage, and all of their talk And every hand out from every clown And every buck that ain't taken When no one's around.

    He sings Play’n fields for sale and rent Jobs to get…through the fence Low pay, no bens, no breaks Tax tax tax is what it takes Ah, but ten hours of pushin’ scams Buys a fif…ty million dollar tram He’s a man of means by no means, King of the town

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    I have been told (sorry, no official documentation) that one dollar spent locally has a revolving effect in the community 7-11 times. That is some great local economic stimulus.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Kurt Chapman:

    I have been told (sorry, no official documentation) that one dollar spent locally has a revolving effect in the community 7-11 times.

    Bob T:

    And remember to wash your hands -- money is the dirtiest, germ-ridden stuff we handle on a daily basis.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Brig. Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (unverified)
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    Bravo, "Buy", bravo!!!

    Every post could benefit from such a ditty. Perhaps it's the only way to comment anymore...

    A Spanish visitor named "Bruno", Said, "Portland is one thing I do know". The women are fine, the weed divine, But the Mayor is numero uno".

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