What does it really mean to “shop locally”?

After a redeye flight back from DC for Thanksgiving, our big morning outing was to walk to the local coffee shop while the boys rode their bikes (a wobbly bike and a trike). They set the pace on the busy sidewalk while we ambled along.

At Caffe Trieste, they were content to split a bagel and drink (and spill) water from dixie cups while Alec and I tried to enjoy our mochas. Fun times.

On the way back, we walked along past a few merchant’s windows that had signs to “BUY LOCALLY” to support the local economy and keep money in the community. It sounded good. And because I absolutely adore rules, lists, and challenges, I threw down the gauntlet and declared that “we should buy all of our gifts either locally or used.”

I imagined that I would be willing to spend a little more on a wooden toy at the ecology center than dollars less on Amazon or Target. Maybe I’d save on shipping charges so it would all net out equally. But there were a lot of things I didn’t consider at the time.

Here are the best reasons to shop locally according to BuyLocalBerkeley.com:

  1. It keeps dollars in our economy. Of every $100 spent at a local store, $68 stays in the community.
  2. It makes us unique. There’s no place like Berkeley! Homegrown businesses are part of what makes us special.
  3. It creates local jobs. Local businesses are the best at creating higher-paying jobs for our neighbors.
  4. It helps the environment. Buying locally saves transportation fuel. Plus you get products that you know are safe and well made, because our neighbors stand behind them.
  5. It nurtures our community. Studies show that local businesses donate to community causes at more than twice the rate of chains.
  6. It conserves tax dollars. Spending locally ensures that your sales taxes are reinvested where they belong right here in your community!

Still not convinced? Somehow I doubt it’s a matter of convincing… in truth, shopping locally is even more confusing than eating locally. I can walk down my street and go to the aforementioned Ecology Center and buy a cute Plan Stacking Toy. I feel good and the community “keeps my money” but that toy did not originate in Berkeley. Hmmm.

When I discussed this with the Ecology Store dude, he brought up World of Good (now hosted by eBay, another Bay Area company). They import goods from around the world in a fair trade sort of way. Sound ethical principals to be sure, but not really *local*. Now I’m confused.

Then I keep thinking about Gap, Gymboree, Williams Sonoma, and Benefit. These are Bay Area companies and certainly it’s important to my community to support them and keep those jobs from going away. Right? I found this list on Wikipedia of San Francisco companies. And here’s even more info from the Berkeley Merchant’s Association.

But the bottom line for me — and sorry that it took so long to get there — is that to make a greater effort to keep money in my own community is a good thing.

I will report back soon on the second half of the challenge: buy used gifts! as well as the actual results of the challenge.