December 22, 2016: Shopping locally: not just a Christmas activity

Belmont Citizen-Herald: December 22, 2016

Belmont businesses this year have faced true difficulties.  The reconstruction of Trapelo Road has tied up traffic, posed parking problems, and made the area look dilapidated for businesses in Cushing Square.  Not something that encourages local foot traffic to support our shops. Work to replace the Leonard Street water mains, repave the road, and reconstruct the sidewalks has created real burdens for Belmont Center businesses. Couple that with the reconstruction of the Macy’s building into a space suitable for new tenants, the small businesses that comprise our Belmont Center business community have been hurt.  There’s no way to put too fine a point on that.

I have read during this holiday shopping season the ongoing encouragement for Belmont residents to “shop locally” as a way to support our local business community during the holiday season.  One reaction I have to this encouragement is akin to folk singer Harry Chapin’s ponderings about his fictitious Thanksgiving food drive (“what will people eat next week?”).   The question is not simply where you will finish your Christmas shopping this weekend. The additional question is where you will do your shopping next week? Or in March? Or in June?

Shopping locally is often promoted as a means to “support our local businesses.”  In some ways, that makes it sound like a charitable action by Belmont residents.  It is, however, much more than that.  Shopping locally is very much in the self-interest of every Belmont resident.  That’s not a political opinion.  Repeated research by local planners supports the conclusion that having locally-owned small business is good for a community as a community.

Let me set aside our local businesses who give Belmont High kids employment opportunities.  Walking into Stone Hearth Pizza, or the Toy Store, or Champions, and elsewhere, and seeing our kids have an opportunity to learn the lessons of having a regular job commitment, learn how to deal with the public, and learn how to work collaboratively with fellow employees to cover the work schedule, improves our community.  I haven’t seen research about local businesses hiring local kids, but it doesn’t take too much walking through Belmont Center to see that.

One big impact of shopping locally, of course, is that it keeps money in the Belmont community.  It supports wages for Belmont residents, who then spend those wages in other local businesses, which then become house payments and grocery budgets for other Belmont residents.  According to the American Independent Business Alliance, “independent retailers return more than three times as much money per dollar of sales than chain competitors.”  The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has found that, on average, 48 percent of each purchase at a local independent business is recirculated locally, compared to less than 14 percent of purchases at chain stores.

A perhaps more interesting study was one headed by Samuel Stroope, a professor at Louisiana State University.  Stroope found that local businesses not only support residential stability, but support property values.  Home buyers are more interested in living in a community that has a “unique personality,” that doesn’t look like Anywhere USA.  Think about how that intuitively rings true. Are you more attracted to a business center with a Terra Firma and a Bells & Whistles, or to one with a Walgreens?

As we all head into the last weekend before Christmas, it behooves us to take a last stroll through Belmont’s squares to shop locally.  But, even more than that, as we head toward the New Year, it behooves us even more to make a resolution that our local businesses merit not only our holiday shopping and dining, but our year-round shopping as well.