Updated on 08.26.10

Being Pragmatic About Buying Local

Trent Hamm

Yesterday, Get Rich Slowly posted an article entitled Why I Buy Local, in which J.D. makes the case for buying from local suppliers, even if the costs are a bit higher, because of the secondary benefits.

J.D.’s support of local businesses goes quite a bit further than mine does. In fact, near the end, he discusses supporting a local business whose primary product isn’t even something he likes:

Twice a week for the past two weeks, I’ve walked up to the store on my way to the office. I buy a Mexican Coke and a cinnamon roll. (I don’t actually like coffee.) Now, I know that my $8 per week isn’t going to keep the place in business. But I hope that it helps a little.

I buy local (and I encourage you to do the same), but I’m rather pragmatic about it. I’ll buy local if the business offers a product (and support for that product) that approaches the value I’d get elsewhere. I won’t buy a product simply because it’s local – my decision to buy something is independent of whether or not there are opportunities to spend locally. Local businesses, however, do often add elements of the purchase to the equation that large chains simply can’t add.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.

I buy a lot of the meat we use for grilling and other purposes from Iowa State University’s Meats Laboratory. Why? The prices are very competitive, the meat is treated with an incredibly high standard, and the people you buy from can answer virtually any question you might have. The fact that the money stays local (within the university) is icing on the cake. The overall value proposition of the meat laboratory beats any other one that I’ve found in the area.

I buy most of my new books from Amazon. The only non-chain bookstore in the area went out of business several years ago, although there are a few in Des Moines (most of an hour away). Amazon’s prices are better than the chains, plus they deliver to my doorstep. The overall value proposition of Amazon beats the overall value proposition of visiting an independent bookstore that requires an hour and a half round trip to visit.

I buy most of my vegetables from the local farmer’s market. This supplements what we grow, of course (and you’ll see more of it this afternoon). The actual monetary cost is comparable to the local grocery stores, but the money goes straight to the suppliers, many of which are using purely organic techniques to raise their vegetables and offer to let me come over and walk through their fields if I want. They also know a lot about the different varieties on offer and have lots of preparation suggestions. The value proposition here clearly leans towards the farmer’s market.

I buy toiletries and household products from Sam’s Club. I can get the basic toiletries I need here for substantially cheaper than any other chain in the area. The only “small independent grocer” near me is actually further from my home than Sam’s Club is, thus it’s not really part of my local community. In either case, most product problems I have here would be dealt with by the manufacturer, not the local store. The value proposition (for me) leans towards Sam’s Club.

I buy most of my board games at the local gaming shop. I almost always pay a higher price when I shop there. On the other hand, the shop is constantly holding free gaming events of all kinds which I participate in. The shop does a great job of building community, connecting game players with other game players and so on. Without the shop, this wouldn’t exist. Beyond that, the employees are pretty knowledgeable about the games on sale there. The overall value proposition leans towards the local shop, though I do order online for some harder-to-get items.

Here’s the simple question I always ask myself when I make the decision to buy from a locally owned business or from a large chain: what extra value am I getting from buying local? The benefits in terms of local business taxes are one factor. The additional support is definitely a big factor. The reduced distance from farm to table is a notable factor, too.

But what do those factors add up to? I can’t give you an answer for that because the answer varies from person to person and situation to situation. If you don’t use the extra features of a local store, then those features aren’t valuable to you. The key is thinking about them.

The take-home message is this: local businesses have the ability to add a lot of value to certain types of purchases. Keep that in mind and decide for yourself what the best choice is the next time you’re trying to decide whether to buy your vegetables from the farmer’s market or the Wal-Mart Supercenter.

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  1. Just a quick question about your lab meat:

    What do they do to it?

    It just sounds funny. “I buy my meat from a lab.”

    Looking at their website it sounds like it’s just a learning facility. But it still sounds funny. :)

  2. Thefrugalvegan says:

    I am silmiler to you in my “buying local” practices. Unfortunately, our farmers market is very expensive so I now purchase my produce from a local store which sells local but at almost half the price! There are also farmers who sell from the back of their truck in some locations and I will purchase from them as well. I am also a picky coffee drinker and only go to local chains for this and I buy my coffee from a local roaster. I think in the end, we all pick what is most important to us :)

  3. Weston says:

    I’ll add another one.

    I know of several people who have worked for many years in the food industry. While they think that the taste of the food is often better in locally owned restaurants they go out of their way to eat at national chains.

    The reason they give is health and cleanliness. Health inspection departments were overburdened to begin with. Since budget cuts it has gotten completely out of hand. Corporate chains usually have far stricter cleanliness standards than local authorities and they regularly inspect and watch their franchisee,licensees and managers like a hawk.

  4. Johanna says:

    For a great comparison of grocery-store produce versus farmers-market produce (as well as lots of other useful information), I recommend the book “How to pick a peach.” Basically, a bin of peaches (or apples or tomatoes or anything else) at the grocery store has fruit from many different farmers all mixed together. Each farmer is paid strictly by the pound, so they have no incentive to even try to focus on quality rather than quantity. But at the farmers’ market, customers know which farmer grew which peaches, so the farmers do have an incentive to pay attention to quality.

    Farmers’ markets in my area tend to be somewhat more expensive than grocery stores most of the time, but I can afford to pay a bit extra for food that tastes good, and it’s worth it to me.

  5. JennE says:

    Trent, it sounds like J.D. is saying that he buys a Mexican Coke instead of coffee because he does not like coffee. He’s still buying something that he enjoys from the local store.

  6. Alvares says:

    As always, your mileage may vary. Finnancialy speaking it’s not worth it for me because local stores are always more expensive then supermarkets or big chains. However sometimes i like to have a coffee or eat a lunch at a local restaurant or bar because they are very old and it’s kind of a tradition (my father and my father-in-law frequented this same places).

  7. Amy B. says:

    Similarly to Johanna, I purchase my milk from a local creamery. I pay a premium (about what I would pay for organic milk in the supermarket). The benefits: I’m supporting a local farmer, local jobs (through deliveries), plus I know that I’m getting a quality product without antibiotics or growth hormones. Plus, my milk is delivered in glass bottles (I pay a deposit), so I’m not concerned about plastic disposal or leaching.

    There had also been the unexpected benefit of less money spent at the grocery store: Running out of milk was my #1 reason for out of schedule trips to the store – since I have two preschoolers, this almost always meant bringing home things I didn’t need.

  8. Tammy says:

    I don’t purchase anything online if I can find it – or order it – locally. Even if it costs me more, it’s helping someone keep their business operational, employ local people, and use other local businesses for supplies, utilities, accounting, etc.

    For me, there are other factors at work than the bottom dollar price of Amazon.

  9. Johanna says:

    @Tammy: Small, independent businesses operate online too (and some even sell their products through Amazon). True, you’re not keeping the money in your local community that way, but you’re supporting someone else’s local community (which is probably struggling too), and you’re helping to sustain the diversity of independent businesses generally.

  10. ac says:

    I use Better World Books for any used books I buy (I buy used if it is available). For new books I compare between Amazon and BWB and buy from whoever is cheaper. I like to support BWB because it’s part of their business to donate a portion of all sales to literacy projects around the world. They also offer free shipping, and for usually less than a dollar you can make it ecoshipping which minimizes impact.

  11. nancy says:

    I try to buy food locally we have several farmers markets in our area and I get vegetables and honey that is fantastic prices and quality. I agree with the books from amazon.

  12. Tracy says:

    Food I try to buy as much locally as possible – for me, quality trumps price. I’d much prefer local coffee shops, restaurants, places with character.

    But really, for me it’s more about buying from small businesses rather than local. Obviously, I won’t take a hit on the quality of service or product, but usually if I go with small, I have the opposite experience.

  13. BJD says:

    Similar to Johanna and Amy B – I find our farmers market prices are higher than at the grocery store but I still choose to spend my dollars there for a variety of reasons.

    And similar to Weston’s acquaintances, I have found many, many locally owned restaurants to have cleanliness levels way below the national chains. It’s so disappointing.

  14. Kathryn says:

    We have a local, used bookstore in the area. She orders new things (when i get them) online for me & they are always at a lower price than Amazon. I figure she must get some discount & she usually only charges $1 above what her price turns out to be. It can takes some time because they are shipped at a “book rate” price, but it is worth it to me to support her store. Having that store in our small town has many benefits to me.

    I’ve never ordered books from Amazon, tho i’ve looked at them. I prefer Alibris for purchasing second hand books online.

  15. PB Jung says:

    I agree with you Trent. I prefer to go local small business on purchases but some things are better produced, more efficient, and cheaper by legitimate ‘larger’ companies like Costco or Sam’s Club.

    The internet is another great open market that drives prices down and helps out the consumer.

    The one thing that is true is we don’t fully realize the total impact of supporting local companies, even if at a premium. If we count in the total cost to the community, world, etc, it may be a better deal to go local than ‘big company’.

  16. jim says:

    Is it just me or do the words “meat laboratory” make anyone else immediately not want to buy food there? The word “laboratory” just doesn’t sound good when combined with food.

  17. WendyH says:

    For me, quality and service are worth paying a bit more for. I wish that my local grocery store would have the type of quality control and turnover that the chain grocery store does, but they just don’t. I refuse to get fresh produce or dairy there after repeated bad experiences. There is no excuse to find cheese that the “sell by” date is past by one month!

    I’m also curious to see what happens with the small (retailer-owned) chain hardware store that just opened in town. The last independant hardware store closed down due to the recession (they did a lot of home construction business also) and there’s a big-box chain not far away. I’ve been in 3 times since they’ve opened and gotten great service from people who know what they are talking about better than many that I’ve talked to in an orange apron.

  18. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    Trent, I agree with you completely just as long as you take all aspects into consideration when doing your value calculation. For example, buying locally adds value in the form of:

    1. Increased revenue for local municipality which is used to provide you with services.
    2. Buying locally produced fruit cuts down on pollution due to transportation.
    3. Buying local supports local jobs which in turns supports the local economy.

    A lot of these numbers are a bit hard to quantify so I usually just discount local product prices by 25% to account for this, 50% if it’s a food product that was grown locally.

    If after considering these things you still come up with a better value shopping elsewhere then by all means, do so. Your book shopping is a good example of that.

  19. marta says:


    It is not just you. That was my immediate thought as soon as I read the words. Ugh.

  20. Belinda says:

    I buy all the produce I don’t grow myself at Meijer, which buys it from a farm just about 40 miles away. I really don’t like the local farmer’s market. It’s yuppified, and crowded. I’d rather swap my tomatoes with a neighbor’s beans like everyone used to do. But once I found out that our Meijer produce is local, I just go there. I also buy my toiletries at Sam’s Club. Toilet paper is toilet paper.

    But I shop for birthday and Christmas presents in a little artsy college town up the road, where I always find unique and beautiful things that you can’t find at the mall. That’s worth paying a little more, I think.

    So I agree with you, when there’s a difference in quality and value, and you’re getting something for “buying local”, I’m all for it. But I’m not wading through a morass of trend setters at the farmer’s market just for a basket of overpriced corn on the cob that I can get for 20 cents an ear at Meijer.

  21. Buying locally has always been something I’ve supported. I even participated in a local crop share for a year. I do agree that you can sometimes get a better deal elsewhere. Personally, I like Costco better than Sam’s Club, both for product quality and the fact that they’re NOT affiliated with Walmart.

  22. John S says:

    Jim, that’s hilarious. I did have that reaction subconsciously, but I didn’t give it any further thought until you brought it up again.

    Regarding buying locally, I am in complete agreement with Trent. All other things being equal, I’d just as soon buy locally. However, if neither retailer has any value-add from my perspective, I’ll go with whomever’s cheapest.

    In other words, if a locally-owned bookstore has books you can’t get anywhere else, or has a really interesting interior which makes shopping there fun, or hosts community events that I enjoy, I’ll patronize it. However, if they just retail books, period, I’d just as soon go with Amazon.

    Using a hardware store as an example: If the local hardware store carried American-made hammers, nails, etc, I’d shop there despite a significant markup. Unfortunately, most local retailers are selling the same crap from China that Lowe’s and Home Depot sell. So, why pay more for it?

    Also, large retailers like Lowe’s offer their employees good pay, vacation, 401k, and health benefits. I doubt the mom-and-pop hardware stores (or bookstores) do. So really, which type of retail institution is better for the working class? I definitely think chain retailers have merits that sometimes outweigh their (sometimes deserved) stigma.

  23. @jim: I agree! Meat lab…ick. “Igor, pass me the sirloin…”

    Regarding buying local…
    My family refuses to shop at Wal-Mart, even though it is usually the cheaper option (by maybe a few cents). Our reasons for this?
    #1 Our Wal-Mart is run by very rude people. Don’t ever try to deal with Wal-Mart if you are looking for donations for United Way.
    #2 It is incredibly irritating to shop there.
    #3 We’d rather support small businesses, since we are also small business owners. It’s worth it to spend a little more in these cases. For example, my grocery store is family owned and operated, and I won’t shop anywhere else. I hope when they need their computer serviced, they won’t call Best Buy; but instead would call MY family owned and operated business.

  24. Carole says:

    I think we all feel we should shop locally, but often I don’t because of price and quality. Especially small town grocery stores tend to have poor quality because they don’t sell enough, fast enough to keep things fresh and inviting. There is am Amosh communtity fairly close to me and they have salvage grocery stores where they sell overstocks and slightly damaged goods along with baked products and bulk supplies of unusual items. They always seem to have a brisk business.

  25. valleycat1 says:

    Re farmer’s markets – not all farmer’s markets/ street markets are truly selling that person’s produce. In CA, only certified farmer’s markets can claim that – otherwise the produce could be from anywhere. (We sold produce at a certified market for 5 years & researched markets pretty thoroughly before doing so). I’ve been to markets in other states where you could buy bananas and items obviously not grown in the area. And other than the rare kinds of produce that can be stored, anything out of season is definitely not locally grown.

  26. valleycat1 says:

    I’m on the opposite side of the buy local idea, at least as long as we live in this town.

    Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s great that people want to buy locally & I fully understand the sentiment. When we travel we search out local stores & restaurants rather than sticking to the chains.

    However, our local merchants pretty much lost my sympathy 5-6 years ago (we live in a small town serving a fairly large ag area) when WalMart began planning to add a superW here (we already have a regular one & 3 other big box stores). Not one of the local merchants even responded to a survey their own association tried to take to garner support to oppose the big W, and several even went on record in the local newspaper saying they were all for it. If our local stores don’t get it, why should I spend extra money to buy from them instead of finding a better deal?

  27. shaggybrown says:

    Why did you say he “[support]s a local business whose primary product isn’t even something he likes”

    I think he likes Mexican Coke fine. It’s coffee he doesn’t like, so he buys the Coke instead.

  28. Katie says:

    My husband’s family owns a jewelry store in a small community between Milwaukee and Madison, WI. It has four employees, three of them in the family, so it is the epitome of a local, family business. We always love it when people compliment our store in comparison to mall/chain jewelry stores. Not only are you getting family service, but the owner (my father-in-law) is a certified appraiser, gemologist, and goldsmith with 30 years of experience. There are not many stores in the state that can boast those credentials.

    So I thank everyone who supports local businesses, my family’s included.

  29. Shannon Vandewarker says:

    Have you ever heard of Better World Books? It’s actually cheaper than Amazon (and they tell you if it’s not), they give a portion of their sales to literacy world wide, shipping is always free and they include a .10 charge to off set the carbon footprint for shipping… you should check it out. http://www.betterworldbooks.com

  30. AndreaS says:

    I recall hearing or reading somewhere (might have been the book “Freakonomics”) that it is a misconception that locally grown produce has a smaller carbon footprint. The big businesses are more efficient at producing, so even with the additional energy of transporting food long distances, they use less energy to produce food and get it to you. In other words, if you buy local produce, you might increase your carbon footprint. I understand some people might doubt this. As a comparison example… we have a large riding lawn mower and a small push mower… it actually uses more gas to use the push mower for our whole large lawn than the riding mower, because the riding mower mows a wider path and moves faster. My daughter just bought a house two miles away and doesn’t have a mower yet. It takes about three hours to mow her lawn with our push mower… but it takes only 90 minutes to ride the big mower there, mow and ride back. So you see, it is plausible that vegetables produced locally could result in a larger carbon footprint.

    To me, the main reason to buy local produce is that likely the produce was more recently picked, and so is more nutritious.

    Other than food, I buy most goods local… local yard sales, local curb-shopping, local junk shops, local thrift shops and local craigslist sellers. Almost always used stuff costs less, and it is better for the environment for me to buy used (unless a new appliance is more energy efficient).

    I buy online because that is how I buy used things I can’t find locally. I shop on ebay and also sites like abebooks. It is also more energy efficient because I don’t have to drive to the mall to buy stuff.

    Since the dawn of humanity people have realized there is value in trade with people from other regions… even continents. Trade elevates our standard of living, because we trade goods with people from other areas (and/or who have other skills and resources) that are able to produce these goods cheaper and better than we can.

    But further, why is there more value in buying a NEW book from a local bookstore, than a used book from an ebay dealer, who might be a stay-at-home mom just trying to make a few dollars to get by?

    In my area, the one local used bookstore is an ebay dealer. So when you buy one of her books on ebay, you support someone that is local to me. Similarly when I buy on ebay I might buy from a seller in your town, and support someone that is local to you.

    Oh, about buying new games. I was incredibly hard up for a present for an adult son, so horrors horrors, I bought him a new $30 game from a local game store. Once we opened the box we saw actual game was cheesy and in a number of ways greatly differed from the picture on the box. But the game store would not take my game back because we had opened the box… even though she agreed with me about the quality issues, and agreed I had to open the box to have known this. And it wasn’t a “local” game anyway as the game was made in Canada. The same year I bought a knock-off of the Jenga game at Wal-mart. It too was poorly made such that the blocks didn’t stack properly. Wal-Mart gave me my money back no questions asked.

  31. Kelly says:

    Our locally owned super market is SO outrageously expensive that I rarely shop there. I think he keeps his prices high because he is the only grocery store in our economically depressed town that has a lot of people receiving food stamps and elderly people who don’t want to drive the 20 miles to the Super W. No thanks, I’ll drive to the big box store and save qutie a bit in the process.

    The school district reported that 1200 of the 2200 kids in our school district receive either free or reduced lunches(not my family though I make too much money even WITH an unemployed husband). So what does that tell you about our local economy?

  32. Kelly says:

    But further, why is there more value in buying a NEW book from a local bookstore, than a used book from an ebay dealer, who might be a stay-at-home mom just trying to make a few dollars to get by?
    @Andrea since I no longer have credit cards, I refuse to link my PayPal account to my bank account! I’ve had TOO many crooks hack into my credit card accounts and most recently someone hacked into my iTunes account and put $400 on my credit card that was attached to the iTunes acct. I REFUSE to put my bank account at risk so therefore I no longer buy on eBay.

  33. Diane says:

    I also shop locally whenever I can, but my husband and I had a period of several months where we were both unemployed and I know that cheap is cheap when you’re on a limited income.

    I love our farmer’s market, but also have to laugh when people say they don’t mind paying “a bit more” or “somewhat more” for better food, when the prices are 2 to 3 times what they are in the supermarket. At least where I live.

  34. Mitch says:

    I’m pretty sure you misunderstood his comment. Mexican coke is a slightly different formulation of coke sold in glass bottles. It has nothing to do with coffe. The context i understood was “since he doesn’t like coffee in the morning, he buys this” (which he enjoys)

  35. sheila says:

    I really like our “local” eateries. My husband and I are vegetarians, and we appreciate being able to easily make substitutions for meat or seafood in dishes. At a chain, they are not flexible and we’d be limited to one or two items on a menu — that just gets boring.

    I do say “local” with my tongue firmly in my cheek. There are no good places to eat where I live, and I usually have to drive 20 to 30 minutes to find decent food.

  36. Kris says:

    I don’t buy into the need to shop locally just because its local. If a local store is to survive then it has to offer something that you can’t get at the chain store… and that is usually service. Also, for those wanting to support local jobs, the national chain often employs more people than your local mom & pop shop, so is it really supporting local jobs to buy at a “local” store?

    With all the big box stores and the internet, the rules of commerce have changed. For your local mom & pop to compete, they will have to offer more service, a better location or something unique you can’t get at the local Walmart or Home Depot.

  37. Courtney says:

    Yeah, “meat lab” sounds scary…I have images of meat being grown in test tubes…

  38. Maya says:

    The thought process for local/small vs. national chain is a lot like organic/natural vs. “conventional”. I used to be like most people and buy “conventional” unless there was a specific reason to buy organic/natural. That never felt right to me; and then one day I had a flash of insight and flipped the question around. Now I buy organic/natural unless there is a specific reason to buy “conventional”. The same goes for buying local/small business. This way of thinking won’t work for everyone, but I am at peace with it.

  39. AJDS says:

    The ISU Meat Lab- taken from the ISU website:

    This state-of-the-art meat laboratory supports technology and product development. The lab has full processing capabilities starting with slaughter for poultry and red meats. Further processed meats, such as franks, luncheon meat and fermented products, can also be produced. The lab is available to private companies for product and process development. A retail sales outlet for disposal of meat products produced in the course of teaching, research and extension activities is available to the public. Current prices are listed at (a web link).

    I would much rather buy meat from them than random meat from Walmart. Besides I would figure that future USDA inspectors and such would take classes at the food lab.

  40. Janis says:

    Knitters have an acronym for it: LYS stands for Local Yarn Shop. Our LYS hosts get-togethers for knitters/crocheters at least four times a month. At yesterday’s LYS get-together one of the women observed that, while she can sometimes buy cheaper yarn from a big box craft store, she chooses to always support her LYS. Why? As she put it: “My life would be much less happy if this yarn shop wasn’t here.”

  41. Kate says:

    Something that’s been mentioned in passing a few times that, to me, is an *excellent* reason to “buy local” or from small locally-owned businesses: expertise and local knowledge.

    Friends of ours ran up against Wal-Mart years ago when it was just starting to become the mega-monster it is today. They owned a combination bike shop/toy store. They held out against Wal-Mart much longer than any of the other small local businesses that went under after the Wal-Mart arrived because of expertise.

    The husband was not only an expert on biking, he’d biked across the top of the United States. (Roughly following the Canadian border.) The wife not only knew their stock cold, but was *brilliant* at suggesting toys that would suit a particular child. Customers would tell her the age and gender of the child, she’d ask a few questions about interests and reading level and the like, and come up with something that got raves.

    They did eventually succumb, in part because their landlord raised the rent on the store and in part because Wal-Mart sold most big-name toys cheaper than their tiny store could buy them wholesale. But I’ve always thought that had they owned their store’s own building, or been in a slightly larger town, they could have held on. If they could have found locally-made toys, that would have cinched it!

    Our finances are very tight, and I don’t throw money away. But I’ll spend a bit extra, if I can afford to spend at all, for local expertise and quality.

  42. Nate says:

    I’m all for buying local and all that. I do buy local as much as possible. But I wish more people would buy products made within their country’s borders rather than “MADE IN CHINA”.
    I also wish more companies would stop making their products in China-Nike, Rockport, Apple, Coach. There’s a reason I won’t buy your products no matter how superior they may be.

  43. Kathy says:

    wow. I mean I’d understand if he really liked some of the secondary products.

    Oh yeah. He does. So much so that he stopped going for health and finance reasons. (He was point blank says that he was “living the latte factor”) So what if he doesn’t like coffee. He’s not forcing himself to go and buy something at this place. He’s actually found a reason to allow himself the treat that he used to have more frequently.

  44. WendyH says:

    “meat laboratory” sounds like the comic panel where they show the chicken with 6 legs so all the kids can have a drumstick.

    We have found in the past that the big box stores will change over time; when they open they have a wide variety of products, but as they track sales in a specific store, they start eliminating things that don’t sell and stock deeper, not wider. When we needed something “odd” we’ve ended up searching out the small specialty stores for specific items in the long run anyway, so now make a point of frequenting them when we are able so that they are still in business when we need them.

  45. littlepitcher says:

    @Weston–Get your local paper to publish health department scores, if in a small town, and high pass/all fails if in a city. You should be able to find locals which compete successfully in this area.
    I try not to purchase at WalMart except loss leaders, because of their wage ceiling policies and corrupt leadership. I will purchase from Walgreens after their pharmacist called every non-Walgreen store between here and Atlanta to search out a prescription which was on factory back-order, and then drove down to Atlanta after work and picked it up for me. Add to that, that FedEX delivered our printer to a locally owned pharmacy a block from my home/work, and we were not called, not notified, and they apparently expected to age it and then keep and use it.
    I love local economy, but can’t say it’s always the best option.

  46. rosa rugosa says:

    Actually, one of the things I like about online shopping is the ability to shop from small retailers who are far away from me, especially for more exotic/ specialty items that cannot be found locally from small retailers or big box stores.

  47. AnnJo says:

    A week ago, Trent did a great article on the irrationality behind needing to buy the “name-brand” product. If you think seriously about it, “Local” is really a “brand” and people’s insistence on buying “local” is no different than insisting on buying the “name-brand,” based mainly on emotional impulses. This is pretty evident by reading the comments on why people favor buying locally, which focus largely on feelings and beliefs about things other than the products themselves. As Trent said last week:

    “If an item makes you feel a certain way that you can’t quantify with hard facts, marketing is probably at work. Ignore it. Make your purchasing decisions based on facts and come away with the best buy you can.”

    If “local” is more expensive, it probably means one or more likely both of the following:

    1. The seller is taking advantage of consumers’ “branding” irrationality to increase either volume or profit or both, and the consumer is paying extra for the “warm and fuzzy” feeling.

    2. There is a misapplication of resources. The producer is inputting greater resources into production and must charge a higher price to recoup, which the producer can only get away with because the consumer has brand-identified “local” as “superior.” Another word for the misapplication of resources is “waste” which is never frugal or environmentally friendly.

    Sure, you can sometimes get different varieties at the farmer’s market that aren’t available at your local grocery store or Costco, and the shopping there can be an entertaining way to spend a Saturday morning, but to make it a matter of principle to “buy local” whenever possible even if it costs more is allowing oneself to be seduced by a brand.

    The argument that shopping local improves your local economy also flies in the face of economic theory. Economies improve by maximizing their comparative advantages in trade with other economies. Washington State is better at growing apples and wheat; California is better at growing citrus and artichokes. When a Washington resident buys a California orange or artichoke, she allows a California resident to buy an apple or loaf of bread. All get prices superior to what they would have to pay if they tried to grow oranges/artichokes in Washington and apples/wheat in California (which could be done but only by a huge waste of resources).

    And the alternative, Washington residents refrain from buying citrus when that’s what they truly want and Californians don’t eat apples even if they’d like one, is not an IMPROVEMENT to an economy. Simply having more money isn’t an economic good, having WHAT YOU WANT is an economic good. So if you want apples and deprive yourself by buying citrus, the local economy, of which you are a part, has suffered.

    Service, quality, selection, convenience, warranties, etc. at local shops can all be better or worse than with large chains. Which carries the brand of “local” rationally should be irrelevant to choosing the best.

  48. friendlyfire says:

    umm, w/out being a heartless hardass, let me say, local or otherwise, a business has to EARN my business.

    if they have what I want/need when I want it are reasonably friendly and assuredly knowledgeable, and it’s a fair price (as defined by me, the consumer) then I buy there.

    I sure wouldn’t buy something I don’t need. But if I could bring some business to a deserving shop by referring it to friends or colleagues, sure, I do that and would continue to do so.

    there are some excellent local businesses and farmers. And there are some that are not.

    Being big isn’t automatically being bad. I have purchased from companies as diverse as Amazon and REI with great results.

    But Sam’s Club is a part of Walmart and due to their policies (overt and covert) and negative behaviors socially and environmentally I will not give them my business.

    I will not buy from a company that locks its workers inside the store, and forces them to work off the clock.

    I will not buy from a store that allows hazardous wastes to seep into the groundwater from their behemoth trucks in their ever larger parking lots.

    Not from a company that skimped on overhead parking lot lighting and had numorous customers assaulted until a lawsuit forced them to do otherwise.

    A company whose growth strategy is predicated on eradicating what is local and individually owned.

    Not ever will I buy from Walmart or any of their affiliates.

  49. Stephanie says:

    I buy my books from Barnes and Noble because I also belong to http://www.mypoints.com, a shopping clearinghouse that gives you points whenever you go through them to do your online shopping. Most of their stores only offer 1-3 points per dollar (which still adds up) but Barnes and Noble offers 10 points per dollar! This is great, considering I buy a lot of books and video games through them. Another great thing is that I often turn in my points around Christmas time for Barnes and Noble giftcards, which I then turn around and use for Christmas gifts. So in a way I get double points.
    I’ve belonged to mypoints for about 10 years and have received about $500 in gift cards from them. They represent a large number of online stores and department stores; whenever I make an online purchase, I always check first to see if they are with mypoints, so I can get the points.

  50. Courtney says:

    The idea that locally owned businesses are hapless victims of big box stores is a romantic notion that is not based in reality.

    Our community cheered when Walmart arrived. Know why? We no longer had to shop at our locally owned grocery store, with its rude owners, limited selection, moldy produce, not-so-fresh dairy and meat, and sky-high prices.

    We no longer had to shop at the locally-owned pharmacy, with its rude owners, limited selection, sky-high prices and limited hours of operation (Need medicine on a Saturday afternoon, Sunday, or past 6:00 on weekdays? Too bad, you’re out of luck.)

    We no longer had to spend time and gas money driving 30 miles away to the nearest big town to get decent variety and prices.

    The locally owned stores not only lost most of their customers, they lost their employees. They went to work at Walmart, where they were able to get higher wages and the benefits that the locally owned businesses never provided.

    In addition, Walmart gives thousands upon thousands of dollars in contributions to the community each year for charities, benefits, fire and police departments, schools, libraries, sports programs, animal shelters, and on and on.

    So yes, some of our local businesses did go under with the arrival of Walmart, but there was a very good reason for that – and our community has benefited greatly.

  51. Lindsay says:

    I’m a college student, so even though my supplies are rather limited, I try to buy local as much as I can. It’s hard to argue against the cheaper option for most people, but I feel that the societal damage is far too great for me to shop at a place like WalMart. Of course, I live in a large city, so I don’t have to go out of my way to shop local (I have to go out of my way to shop at a big box store).

    My one exception? Amazon. They’re fantastic!

  52. jan says:

    If you live in rural America and do NOT support your local store it will go out of business and the drive will be much further get items you need.

  53. Janelle says:

    Meat Labratory. Most college science classes have a lab, where students are learning “hands- on.” Meat classes (slaughter classes) have labs as well, hence a meat lab. I went to a “learn by doing” college here in California and we had the same thing. A great class!
    Also, I work for a large grower and shipper of vegetables. Our standards are very, very strict as far as food safety goes, as many other large shippers and growers who supply larger food store chains or supermarkets. Some of your smaller farmers out there (those that attend farmers markets)are not required to abide by these rules and regulations as they are not as large and do not ship to grocery stores. Water isn’t tested, no food saftey barriers for animals, etc. There is more of a chance of e-coli with these smaller farmers. Luckily most abide by the rules, but you must know there are quite a few less rules they must abide by.

  54. Jeremy says:

    Trent — J.D.’s comment that he doesn’t like coffee is an explanation for the fact that he buys a Mexican *Coke* with his cinnamon roll.

    He’s not buying something he doesn’t like, he’s explaining why he’s buying soda with his breakfast.

  55. Heather says:

    Why spend money on books anywhere when you can trade them at http://www.bookmooch.com
    thats what we do ;)

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