Economic web

Stacy Mitchell, author of “Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses”

The list of reasons is long when Stacy Mitchell talks about the importance of shopping at independent, locally owned businesses.

A senior researcher for the Institute for Local Self Reliance and the author of “Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses,” Mitchell cites the economic impact of buying local.

“In a national chain, only about 15 cents of every dollar you spend stays local. The other 85 cents goes back to corporate headquarters,” Mitchell said. “In shopping at locally owned stores, it is 30 to 50 cents that stays local. It has to do with a larger local payroll and local businesses tending to source locally-their printing, banking, accounting. If you track those dollars, they are part of this web of economic exchange and community.”

Shopping local also builds our sense of community.

“Running your errands is one of the ways you experience where you live,” Mitchell said. “You might be mainly in the car driving to a mall, generally not seeing anyone you know, with no social interaction, making an isolated economic exchange.

“It’s very different from running errands partly on foot and experiencing the scale of your community, going to Main Street businesses where you interact with owners who know you, running into neighbors and having seemingly informal and chance conversations,” she said. “They all add up into a sense of community and connection.”

People in those communities with mostly locally owned businesses tend to belong to community organizations in great numbers, Mitchell said. They are more likely to know their neighbors and vote more often. “Part of what the ‘buy local’ movement is doing is rediscovering the value of community and what it means to our capacity to be a free and independent citizenry,” she said.

Mitchell says she hopes our buying habits translate to community action.

“The experience of going to the farmers market and having more of a connection with who is growing your food leads very naturally to looking at the federal farm bill and questioning why the lion’s share of the dollars are going to big commodity producers.

Similarly, Mitchell said, “it’s likely that the experience of being a customer of an independent bookstore gives you a perspective on some of the concerns about Amazon’s control over the book industry and what the role of government might be in addressing that.”

What we do as consumers makes a big difference according to Mitchell. “How you take those experiences into your actions as a citizen really matters,” she said.

FFI: Institute for Local Self Reliance,

By the numbers

Average percentage of shoppers at a large supermarket who have a conversation with another customer: 9

Average percentage of shoppers at a farmers market who have a conversation with another customer: 63

Number of farmers markets active in 2010: 6,132

Minimum amount having a grocery store, bookstore, coffee shop and restaurant within half a mile of a house increases its value: $21,000