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Shop Local: the Significance of a Growing Trend


From buying locally grown produce at farmer’s markets to shopping at stores on Main Street, shoppers are becoming more community-conscious and want to know that their dollars support their local economy.

But how do small businesses actually impact our communities? Is it really better to “shop small” instead of simply heading to the nearest big box retailer?

We’ve asked the experts so that you can make an informed decision with every purchase.

Why Choose Small Business?

North Carolina is a powerhouse for creating small businesses. In fact, according to the Small Business and Technology Development Center, small businesses employed 1.5 million people in 2014 — nearly half of the state’s private sector employment.

Supporting local businesses helps to strengthen the region’s labor force, whether it’s shopping at a family-owned drugstore or using an independent accountant for your taxes. This is particularly true since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which has helped small businesses compete for the best talent against big box retailers who are often able to offer better health benefits packages.

Many small businesses also tend to offer a warmer, family-like atmosphere compared to larger chains.

Small businesses contribute to more than just employment. The 3/50 Project reports that for every $100 spent at locally owned stores, $68 goes straight back to the community, compared to just $43 when shopping at a large chain. This revenue comes back in the form of taxes, payroll, and other expenses.

Source Your Goods

Of course, community-conscious consumers should always approach their spending with a critical eye.

Dr. Michael Walden, distinguished professor of economics at NC State University, notes that many independent and big box retail stores typically offer the same products, which are often produced out of the state or even out the country.

“There won’t be much difference in terms of economic impact between a locally owned hardware and one of the large ‘big box’ home stores. Both will purchase the products they sell from about the same distributors,” says Dr. Walden.

However, if you need specific expertise, you’ll typically receive more specialized expertise at the locally owned store. To ensure your dollars have the largest impact on your community, select stores that use locally produced goods as part of their supply chain, such as restaurants that source from regional farmers.

“Ask owners: where are you buying your products? What percentage are you buying from local producer?” advises Dr. Walden.

 Angie Heidenrich, owner of Lulu’s Consignment Boutique outside of Asheville, encourages consumers to strengthen their communities by supporting their neighbors’ small businesses.

Local businesses are more likely to give back to the community in a personalized manner. “We benefit people immediately in our area,” says Ms. Heidenrich. “Organizations come straight to us.”

For example, Lulu’s provides clothing to local school clothing closets and also donates a truckload of clothes each week to benefit local organizations like Meals on Wheels.

The Future of the Shop Local Movement

The call to shop locally is particularly strong among Millennials, which include 18 to 33 year olds. A recent study conducted by the Inland Institutional Capital Partners Corporation analyzed the shopping patterns of this generation, revealing a promising future for small businesses, including:

According to the report, Millennials prefer to shop at local stores, particularly if they are accessible by public transportation. Currently comprising 25% of the nation’s workforce, this group is expected to account for 75% of the workforce by just 2025, an exponential increase in purchasing power for a socially-conscious set of shoppers.

Make an Informed Decision

In a world where multinational retail chains are the new norm, it often becomes difficult to remember why it’s important to support businesses operating directly in our area.

From attentive customer service to strengthening the labor force, small businesses also fulfill a greater role — they restore our communities. By shopping locally, consumers proactively mend the fabric of our neighborhoods while helping the economy grow.

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