What does "buy local" mean to you?

Yesterday was the last day of Buy Carrboro Week (see adorable flyer at left). This was an initiative of the new group LocalMotive, which is just one of several organizations focusing on economic development and "buying local" in southern Orange County.  Others include the Carrboro Merchant's Association's Walk Carrboro, and the Town of Chapel Hill's Downtown Economic Development Initiative and emerging Franklin Street Artists' Co-op. There are also older/more traditional groups such as the Chamber of Commerce (and their We Buy Local effort), the Visitor's Bureau, and the Downtown Partnership (risen from the ashes of the old Downtown Commission). I'm sure I'm forgetting some, and I'm not even touching on the groups covering Hillsborough and the rest of Orange County. Buy Carrboro Week got me to thinking about our evolving understanding of economic development in Orange County. Just like our views on other issues such as growth management, affordable housing, environmental preservation, and school achievement I think we as a community have been continuing to learn and to look ahead, leading to a change in attitudes and goals. I've started to wonder whether a traditional "Chamber of Commerce"-type approach is all that relevant here anymore.Two of the things that I think are distinct about our approach to economic development are:

  1. The definition of local. Our "local" Chamber of Commerce includes among it's members Duke Power, Progress Energy, as well as any number of chain stores and hotels. This means that they are representing and promoting all of these groups, as well as countless other small businesses and nonprofits.  Orange County is one of the most local-conscious communities in the country. We have enough interest to support several farmers' markets and dozens of local farms, for example. We are sophisticated consumers and we place a lot of value on truly buying local, even without help from local PR campaigns."Log on to the Buy Local Web site created by the chamber in Chapel Hill and you will find Walmart and Costco among the listings." - The Independent Weekly, 7/9/2009
  2. The definition of economic development. As evidenced in the recent Town Council election, there are some who seem to believe that traditional businessmen (and occasional women) are the only ones qualified to shepherd our local economy. Others think that a more wholistic view, taking into account social, environmental, and - yes - economic justice leads to a healthier and more sustainable community and economy. (Note that no-one is arguing against fiscal responsibility.) But when the Chamber's President made a very public endorsement of a mayoral candidate who touted his business experience as a primary qualification, it became clear that many business leaders are doing nothing more than lip service when they talk about the "triple-bottom line."

So what do you think of my theory? What else makes us unique?  Are some organizations losing relevancy in the sophisticated market of Chapel Hill and Carrboro consumers?  And of course I have to ask: if you are doing holiday shopping, how much are you spending locally?



this year, but I did a lot of it last year at University Mall.  Cameron's was good for some knick knacks.  Got my husband some interestingly designed cuff links there last year.  I may be making a trip to phydeaux for some holiday shopping, not sure yet. 

Log on to the Buy Local Web site created by the chamber in Chapel Hill and you will find Walmart and Costco among the listings

I agree that doesn't sound like buying local to me.   Although, if I'm being honest I'll probably also make a trip to Target or Southpoint before all my holiday shopping is done.  I know my mother wants a specific type of dust buster, or I know that my brother likes ECU college sports stuff since he went to grad school there.  I know there is a sports shop in Southpoint Mall, I don't know where I could find ECU memorabilia in Chapel Hill.  So in the end my holiday shopping will probably include a balancing of local purchases, and things I can't find in a 5 mile radius but I can in a 15 mile one.  But at the least Wal Mart wont be on the list.

I have to give Pat Evans a plug.  At the last Friends of Downtown meeting, she gave out "door prizes" from downtown businesses and used those as a promotion of downtown shopping.  I was amazed at the stuff she got from downtown merchants.  I found out that there a lot of things I can buy downtown that I never realized.  it was a powerful message for those of us who were there, and I applaud her for doing that.  

I agree that buying local when possible is great.  Though I too often feel that Chapel Hill isn't at all pro business or economic development. Too often I feel that the local government is actually working AGAINST any kind of economic development OR they're paying too much heed to those against it. We should be doing things like adding parking to make Franklin Street easier to shop. Encouraging developments like Buckhorn Village, etc. Local merchants are great, but national companies bring jobs too!

will not be just local because of reality, not choice but even here the line has become blurred over the years. Our once local Well Spring morphed into Whole Foods (out of Texas) and has started stocking their own brands, some of which I buy because of cost savings. I confess, I feel a bit conflicted when I do that, but it's cheaper! Then what do we do when a product stocked at Whole Foods such as Myers Clean Day or Seventh Generation are picked up by non-local Harris Teeter? Me? I applaud the move. BTW, Bravo to Flyleaf Books for opening up next to Fosters. Let us not forget the mail order catalogues that allow smaller eco friendly businesses to market to larger audiences without the cost of maintaining a real store in every locality. Here I'm thinking of something such as Real Goods or Deva clothing. The fact of the matter is that we need everyone, big and small. Yes, I avoid WalMart, but I don't think we should out of hand proclaim that they can't be part of the local Chamber. BTW, I frequent Staples near Whole Foods for printer & paper supplies and I don't feel too bad about that either. And finally, "As evidenced in the recent Town Council election, there are some who seem to believe that traditional businessmen (and occasional women) are the only ones qualified to shepherd our local economy." That's misrepresents their position as I understand it. What some were looking for in the last election was balance on the town council. No one point of view should be the only point of view. Happy holidays. 

They're actually what I would call a local chain. They're not small, but based in North Carolina and try to react to the needs/desires of the local markets.

Everyone is "pro-business" in the same way that everyone is "pro-food". Profits-first activists like to throw around the "anti-business" label to make it sound like some dimwits around here are so out of touch that they don't even understand that "business" is important. It distracts from their real message which is that they prefer a certain type of business model, usually one that provides the easiest conduit from our money to their bank accounts which are generally out-of-town.People who appreciate the community strength and self reliance that derives from a network of quality local businesses are "pro-business" in the same way that people who eschew crappy processed food made by agri-business corporation in favor of fresh, nutritious local food are "pro-food".The Chamber sets the bar low for their definition of "local". They say that if you spend your money in Orange County, we get the sales tax. They say that "local" people work at the businesses.They agree with the new Orwellian marketing campaigns of the big retail stores that "local" means that their buildings are physically nearby. They get a lot more members this way - businesses like Blue Cross - Blue Shield,  Progress Energy, Duke Energy, Harris Teeter, Costco, etc.I shop at Harris Teeter sometimes, but I certainly don't feel like I'm shopping locally when I do. When I'm at the Farmer's Market, Weaver St. Market, or my neighbor's farm, I know I'm in the fertile area of our economy. I know the money is not getting siphoned out of town (at least until somebody uses it to pay their electric bill) and I often know the seller, which means I feel good about helping with their livelihood. I feel a sense of interdependence and common purpose.Community members who understand real community economics have a more refined sense of how to express their "pro-business" sentiments.

Just about a year ago, 21 Carrboro merchants, all local, all individually owned, banded together to help drive business in Carrboro. We published and distributed a popular free walking map, ran a few ads, helped get Walk Carrboro banners erected in the center of town, created a website (www.walkcarrboro.com) and, all in all, did what little we could to support our town's varied businesses. Our goal was not to ask people to "buy local" but to let folks know what amazing things we have here in our town - from world class art, coffee and chocolate, to pottery native to Carrboro and crafts native to North Carolina, great dining and much more. I never ask anyone to "buy local"... instead I hope that folks will shop here because our collection of stores and restaurants are owned by people who are passionate about what they do, are nationally and internationally respected for what they have accomplished, and the shopping experience and value here is unparalleled. In short, walking (and shopping) Carrboro is fun.  To me, promoting the amazing shops and restaurants we have here in Carrboro is the best buy local campaign there is. 

I picked up one of the maps yesterday at the bead store and am excited to use it with guests here for the holidays. I agree that Carrboro has great shops and restaurants - and it is hard for me to keep up with them all. It will definitely encourage me to buy local.

Our goal was not to ask people to "buy local" but to let folks know
what amazing things we have here in our town - from world class art,
coffee and chocolate, to pottery native to Carrboro and crafts native
to North Carolina, great dining and much more.

I think a lot of people feel good about buying local, but I think the selling point you just made probably creates more incentive to buy local than just trying to convience people to buy local to support the community as a stand alone argument.

This is an interesting discussion.  Some of my own thoughts:How do we know truly what is a "locally owned" business?  Aren't we more interested in  how the  business is demonstrating and documenting and being held accountable for its commitment to the local community?  How do we assume that a "locally owned" business operates in a morally local way?For example,  I used to work in staffing and recruitment.  I worked with a lot of "local" business--that is to say,  businesses that were owned or majority owned by people who lived in the local area.   There  was no real consistent pattern to their  local commitment.  They ran the same gamut as many businesses that were not locally owned---some were very locally invested,  many others were not.   Some of their employees were well paid, others were not.   Some did not offer health insurance, some did not treat their employees very well.  Some made strong efforts to shop local, hire local, and invest local,  others could have cared less.    One of the locally owned businesses I worked with did not have a single local client,  the last several hires they made were people they relocated to the area,   their owners had most of their substantial assets invested out of the community,  their professional support services were contracted to the lowest bidder, period, no matter where they were located,    and their philanthropic efforts were primarily directed towards out of state entities--places where the employees had grown up or gone to college or had remaining family.  The business was entirely locally owned,  which meant that the owners lived here, sent their kids to school here,  bought groceries here.  Maybe got their cars worked on here.   But was that a local business?    So I would challenge the notion that you can automatically assume certain things about "locally owned" businesses.    I think a company  where you can publicly track the status of their local purchases, philanthopic efforts, and community engagement has some advantages over one that simply trades on the "local ownership" mantra while keeping the specifics of their organizational operations out of the public eye.   How many "local businesses" are doing most of their purchasing on the internet, sending money to the U of Somewhere' Else's  sports program,  and investing their excess cash in mutual funds and other investments  that you might find morally repugnant?  YOU DON"T KNOW.   that's my point.  I'd be very interested in knowing what businesses people consider "local."  Some of the ones I've heard people mention have no local ownership at all--people just call them local because they aren't part of a chain(that anyone knows of), or they have Chapel Hill or Carrboro or Franklin or UNC in their name, or the primary shareholder lives--or is believed to live--- in Orange County.   Yet I don't think that's what people mean when they talk about local.   I have my own criteria that I use to decide where I will shop, and I think the best way we can  build a local economy is to educate consumers to decide what is important to them and make sure they know that the businesses they patronize support those things.     I don't think the address of the owners tells us very much.     Even in the example Ruby stated in her original post—the Franklin Street Artist’s co-op---their own press release states that the co-op will include regional and national artists and I assume because it is a “co-op” that these non-local artists will participate beyond simply having their artwork for sale there.        So here we have participants who are not local, yet we are touting the co-op as a “local entity.”  That’s just an example of how difficult it is to decide what’s local and how well meaning people can have different definitions.   (lest I am misunderstood here,  I am very enthusiastic and supportive of this co-op). 

You hit on a lot of the nuances of shopping local. A few businesses that are authentically local:Maple View, Fitch Lumber, Weaver St. Market, That BBQ Joint, Margaret's Cantina, Fiesta Grill, CD Alley, Nice Price Books, Marcoplos Construction, West Star Heating and Cooling, Regulator Bookshop, Neal's Deli, ... 

3 cups, or a franchise like the UPS Store on N Fordham Blvd? Are they local? I'm glad there are more farmers' markets around.

It would be interesting to catalog the businesses in our community from the authentically local (like 411 West, Maple View Farms, Sturdivant's Tire, etc.) to the corporate predatory (Progress Energy, BCBS, etc.).

or payday lender and second mortgage predator Citi Financial at Carrboro Plaza . . .

And shop as much as we can in University Mall. The real key is where the profits go. Donald Hense, the Executive Director of Friendship House DC, once had this discussion when he chastised me for buying a foreign car. I said: "It was made in America." He said, "It's where the profits go that count."Which is why I hope we will do more to encourage local options for shopping and get Carolina North going, so the profits stay in the area. 

Steve,Did Mr. Hense consider that because that foreign car was being manufactured in America it meant jobs for American citizens?  And did he consider that because they had jobs those Americans were then able to buy goods or foods - many of which might also be manufactured or grown in America?I don't know how the numbers might actually balance out but just because the profits go offshore doesn't necessarily mean that a company can't have an overall positive effect on the local economy where it is located. 

Think Global, Buy Local ...George, that is so hip and so forgiving at the same time !!!  Write the song and print the bumper stickers, brother. 

Well and if the company is publicly owned some of those profits go to shareholders,  some of whom might even be living here.

Given his success at the Urban League of New York, Friendship House DC and the Children's Defense Fund, among others, I think I'll trust him more than you on this.Look at the the examples of Dell and others who provided "local jobs" took the money and then pulled up stakes. 

you to trust me.  I was simply stating my opinion that a large, non-local company might still be able to benefit the local economy and community.  Obviously it depends on the company and other circumstances but "one bad Dell" doesn't spoil the barrel.

Bunk.  Buying that "American" car, built with parts manufactured overseas, is no more beneficial to the economy than buying the "foreign" car made in Spartansburg, SC.  In fact, while I don't have the facts in front of me, I would wager that pre-bailout, the legacy costs alone of making the Chevy made it a detriment to the national economy, as opposed to the Toyota made in Tennessee.Also, not to sound like a cold cynic, but how much value to an "economic development" discussion should one ascribe to the words of the ED of a non-profit whose headquarters went to foreclosure for non-payment? http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/20/AR2008062003193.html

Fifty years ago, buying a car from Detroit used to send dollars to lots of parts manufacturers and shareholders across America.  But more recently buying a Detroit automobile sent lots of money to parts manufacturers and shareholders all over the world.  Hence this debate about what is an 'American' car.  But now that the debt restructuring and bankruptcy of some of these companies is over, aren't these manufacturers largely owned by the United Auto Workers?  If I am right in recalling that, then doesn't that change this equation still further?  Does buying a GM car now route significant money toward the UAW/GM health insurance and returement fund?I am seriously just asking, as I have not followed the GM and Chrysler restructuring all that closely.

Just started a quick list - what else should be included?1)      Sell locally made products?2)      Pay a living wage (other benefits?)3)      Invest in community?4)      Owner lives locally?5)      Has local clientele?6)      Energy-efficient?7)      Minimizes waste generation?      

This looks like the first list used by the students who developed phase one of the Chamber's Green Plus program. The challenge came in operationalizing each of those criteria in a way that is measurable and usable by local citizens. For instance, what % of the products sold needs to be produced locally? How would the typical shopper know what's true and what's advertising? Take Weaver Street (WS) as an example in comparison to Whole Foods (WF). Both buy from local farmers and other local food producers (such as cheese, salsa, honey, etc.) but Whole Foods, as a larger store makes more options available. If I shop at Whole Foods, I can get everything I need for the week whereas when I shop at Weaver Street (which is most of the time), I always have to make a back up trip to Lowe's or Harris Teeter. Both WS and WF hire local citizens; both give back to the community; both seek out products that minimize packaging. The difference is that the profits of one stay in the community, and the profits of another go out of the community. But it costs me more at Weaver Street for the same products. So it's better financially (for me) to shop at Whole Food. Is sustainability measured at the corporate level or at the individual household level?

And Buy directly from the Farm whenever possible and cut out both middlemen.Consumers will make their own choices, but I chose Chapel Hill Tire for my Tires over Costco, even though it cost me $20 more in the end. I could afford it, it saved me time and ultimately that $20 stays in the community.Let's face it, people think it's cheaper to go to Wal-Mart or Costco, but what is the real opportunity cost (driving, time spent, etc.)?As usual, we focus on little things and miss the bigger picture. I saved $20 in annoyance by not driving to Costco.Doesn't make me any better or worse than other folks, I just factor time lost into the equation. It's like people who drive 40 miles to save 5 cents per gallon on gas. 

Incorporating the nuances is the next step toward formulating useful "grading".

I still think it is more effective to educate consumers than to use governmental regulations to achieve this goal.  For a small business to document the things you've outlined would take time and money, not to mention (in the case of wages) maybe violating an employee's privacy, and giving competitors an advantage if you hire people who are in short supply and have specialized skills.  Nothing like knowing what your competition is paying and then raiding their staff with more money.  The power is at the consumer level.  When consumers decide to value certain things and  adjust their purchasing accordingly,  businesses respond.      

It would be useful for consumers who want to educate themselves to have an understandable set of information on businesses. I realize that money & income are a big taboo - most people would rather tell you about their sex lives than how much money they make.

This story about ESPN pushing for more "local" sports coverage is an excellent example of how the desire to support local businesses/services is being exploited by some. It's a business decision that benefits local sports writers by creating job opportunities, but at what price to the rest of the community? http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/12/21/pm-espn-q/

Bogus beyond rebuttal, but it's a new trend.

Well, Mark according to George C. it is. Even though the profits go back to Seattle or Portland or whatever. We benefit greatly from all of these $8 an hour jobs in Durham - not to mention the Sales Tax Revenue.I am amazed at just how much people seem to know around here about the world, but not their backyard. 

"Costco has the lowest employee turnover rate in retailing. Its turnover
is five times lower than its chief rival, Wal-Mart. And Costco pays
higher than average wages -- $17 an hour -- 40 percent more than Sam's
Club, the warehouse chain owned by Wal-Mart. And it offers
better-than-average benefits, including health care coverage to more
than 90 percent of its work force.""In an era when many CEOs are seen as greedy and sometimes corrupt,
Sinegal (COSTCO CEO) is proving that good guys can finish first -- and without all
the corporate frills. Sinegal even sends out his own faxes from his
bare-bones office-without-walls at company headquarters near Seattle.
But the most remarkable thing about Sinegal is his salary -- $350,000 a
year, a fraction of the millions most large corporate CEOs make.""Sinegal admits that 'paying high wages [to his employees] is contrary to conventional wisdom.' And conventional wisdom in this case comes from Wall Street. Analysts
seem to be the only critics of Costco and Sinegal. They think the
company could make even more money if it paid its workers less -- like
Wal-Mart does."
 I believe that there are a lot of unemployed folks in this area who would think such jobs look pretty good right now.  We are fortunate enough to live in Chapel Hill and to be able to shop at places like WSM or Whole Foods.  Not everyone who lives in this area is able to do so.  In an ideal world we would all buy local and we would all take care of one another and we wouldn't be worried about the homeless, the uninsured, etc.  Until that time we need to acknowledge and respect that some people can't afford to spend extra for their daily necessities, even to satisfy an excellent principle.

"In an ideal world we would all buy local and we would all take care of
one another and we wouldn't be worried about the homeless, the
uninsured, etc.  Until that time we need to acknowledge and respect
that some people can't afford to spend extra for their daily
necessities, even to satisfy an excellent principle." It's really all about trade-offs, isn't it? You could shop at Roses (an NC-based business) instead of Costco for some things, but there are other products at Costco that we simply do not manufacture/produce here in Orange County/Piedmont NC/NC/Southeat. So we all have to make purchasing decisions based on the best information available about local businesses and our own economic situation.I may prefer to shop at WomanCraft to support local artists, but if I don't find what I want there, I don't mind going to 10,000 Villages. And if I don't find what I want there, I may just purchase something through Heifer International. We each just need to figure out what we are individually comfortable doing, based on our commitments, our values, and our budgets. 

How  much do you think the average worker earns at Weaver Street,   or at other local  retail business?  (not a criticism of those businesses,  just a point about the reality of retail.)     Ditto to George's comments.   

How much do specific retailers pay their employees?

Dan wrote a great summary of the local shopping "decision tree" in today's Carrboro Citizen. It's not on-line yet, but the paper is out. 

to a pdf of the print edition of today's Citizen on the front page of our web site (carrborocitizen.com). It's at the top of the right side bar. We're posting that first thing every Thursday.Robert Dickson 

to Dan's letter which appeared yesterday in the Carrboro Citizen:http://www.carrborocitizen.com/print/citizen122409.pdf

I bought a filet mignon the other day at WSM, grass-fed, organic - I assumed it came from one of the local farms that raises beef cattle. To my astonishment, the fine print revealed that it came from Australia.


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