My childhood summer memories are filled with the smell of acrylic paint and ceramic shavings. Even now I sometimes dream of bottles of paint and electrical wiring and kilns burning hot. My fingers still ache to clean a piece of greenware, to feel the rough texture beneath my hands. These things permeate my memories because of the summers I spent in the beautiful City of Oaks with my grandparents.
They were hardworking, self-employed folks who rose long before the sun came up. Grandpa loaded his produce truck and drove off into the sunrise while Grandma headed down in the dark to her workshop. She’d spend the first few hours pouring slip into molds and preparing her ceramics. I’d stumble down hours after she’d awakened and joined her in her shop where she’d put me to work cleaning and painting all the ceramics I’d chosen to work on that summer. Sometimes Grandpa would pop in during the afternoon to wire the lamps and make the music boxes sing beautiful songs.
I have beautiful memories of those summers. Her shop was busy, her till was full, her ceramics were beautiful, her art and classes were therapeutic.
Now Grandma’s shop isn’t the bustling place it once was. It could be said that Grandma aged and worked less, but that isn’t true. Even at 86, she still gets up before the sun rises and heads to her workshop. No, sadly, it isn’t the bustling place it used to be because of a number of reasons.
Maybe I could argue that ceramics are a dying art. Or at least doing ceramics from start to finish the way she does, is a dying art.
Or maybe her shop is failing because of the giant shift to a bigger America from the small-town America it used to be.
Now we have the world at our fingertips. Why go pop in to a local shop when I can just as easily order the same thing online (and probably for a cheaper price)? Or why shop small business when I can go into Mega-Mart and buy a cheaply made version of whatever it is I’m looking for?
When we travel an hour and a half from home and visit Goliad, we are greeted as if we’re old friends, despite the fact that no one knows us there. We pop into the local sandwich shop and in the fifteen minutes it takes for them to prepare my order, I listen to the lady behind the register chatting away with all of her customers on a PERSONAL level. She calls out to the young people leaving, “Hey, tell both of your mamas I said hey,” and to the customer that just walked in, “Hey sweetie, how’s your granny feeling these days?” The next guy walks in and she asks, “The usual? How’s life out at the Presidio today?” Everyone is a friend and everyone is welcome. They bake their bread fresh and take pride in their sandwiches. I suppose I could chalk it up to amazing customer service, but the truth is, it is the EXACT same in every store we go into there. There are eclectic shops filled to the brim with quaint, unique items. No mass-produced China made products lingering about. There’s salve made by a local herbalist using local plants. There’s salsa made by a local mom who is able to stay home with her kids because of her sales. There are clothes made by a talented, local seamstress. There’s even a cookbook boasting of local recipes, gathered together by the people there. And those are the products that are the first to be recommended. There’s a sense of community.
It used to be that this city of mine boasted of a few locally owned book shops. Now they’ve been run off by corporate America. So I grab my Starbucks and get lost between tall organized shelves of books at Barnes & Noble. The booksellers don’t recognize me in the sea of faces that frequent their stores. The employee turnover rate is high. There’s no personal connection with the people there. I miss the charming armchair shrouded with piles of books at the locally owned shop. I miss the personalized recommendations. I miss the community. I miss the deeper purpose to all this buying and selling.
But that’s what happens when we stop supporting local. Big business moves in. Small business gets crowded out.
So why indeed? Why shop local when the world is at our fingertips? Why frequent the places close to our homes and get to know the folks behind the products, the goods and the services? Why make a connection with the folks behind the register at the bank and the grocery store and all the other places we frequent?
Because people matter.
I miss the community. I miss the idea that shopping and browsing are less about what I’m buying and more about who I’m buying from.
Aside from the necessity of food, most of our purchases are superfluous. We have a choice about what to shop for and where to shop for those wanted items.
That’s why I first try to shop small business local. I openly admit I don’t do it all the time. I don’t have a bank vault with coins to swim in at my disposal and so I do have my budget and my bottom line to consider. You’ll still see me grab my cart at our big chain grocery store and do some price comparison shopping. And sadly, I have been known to haunt the aisles at some of the mega-stores in our area in an effort to buy cheap. But when I can, I prefer to shop with the folks who are the backbone of this community of mine.
I think of my Grandma and her dwindling business and I want to support the folks like her who put themselves out there and try their best to do what they love.
I like knowing the process that my end product has gone through. Whether it’s coffee beans or bread or lotion, I like knowing where the ingredients came from. I like the idea that I’m supporting the American dream of entrepreneurship. I like supporting small-businesses with real people. I like knowing the products were made ethically and sometimes even with a far reaching benefit. I like knowing that I’m supporting that stay-at-home mom in her business or that my dollar goes to support that family I hold dear. I like knowing that the product I hold in my hand is a labor of love.
The truth is, there are times I’d rather pay more and buy less because I like knowing the people I’m buying from.
I’d rather buy locally made than name brand. I’d rather buy products with local ingredients than ingredients shipped from halfway across the globe. I’d rather buy from the folks right here who exhibit talent and love in the form of stuff. I’m rather proud of this country, even this city, of mine and I like knowing my dollars support that pride.
If I can’t shop small business local, I make an effort to chat in all the local places I visit. I pick the same HEB every week and the same checkout clerk and now I know all about Maxine and her husband and his wretched fight with cancer. I know all about RJ, my bagger, and his homeschooling family that he supports with this extra job. I don’t drive to the next big city seeking fancy stores or better places because these people and these places…they are my community. They are my people.
There is value in supporting what we believe in. I believe in community and people and relationships so I intentionally shop to support those beliefs. The farmer’s market, the local artisan, the coffee bean roaster hobbyist turned professional, the baker.