Why we need Buy Local Month more than ever

Retail Alliance recognizes the need for more support of local businesses and this year approached the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission with the idea to proclaim Buy Local Month for Nov. 15 through Dec. 15. The commission signed a resolution July 18 acknowledging the special month “to bring the region together in supporting and celebrating local independent businesses and the impact they have on the region’s culture, economy and character.”

The time frame is significant due to the holidays being the busiest shopping period and the time that makes or breaks a small business. The resolution ends, however, with the phrase: “Buy local for the holidays and throughout the year.”

When Retail Alliance surveyed its members before and after the 2018 holidays, the biggest challenges noted were “limited marketing and advertising dollars” and “consumers’ lack of awareness of locally owned businesses.”

In an area with a transient population of military and college students, big-box stores have the advantage of name recognition and therefore an advantage over small businesses. In the age of one-click purchases, it’s up to all of us to act and buy local or to put it more bluntly, we must support what we love, or risk losing it.

There is a direct multiplier making the effect three or more times greater when people spend with independent stores, compared to patronizing chain outlets. When the shop owner pays local sales tax, pays rent to a local property owner, prints its menu locally, uses a local attorney or sources local beer, all this tax revenue keeps circulating again and again.

When we shop at a big-box store there is a much smaller return to a local economy, particularly if that company has been given a tax break or some other incentive to operate in that locality.

And it’s not only economic benefits that come from shopping local. The sense of community we have in Hampton Roads, all that makes us unique, is largely a result of our small businesses – often the backbone of our communities. Where we dine with friends, where we take out-of-town guests to show off hidden treasures, where we buy gifts and where we enjoy craft spirits are what build the coastal Virginia culture and character.

Beyond the sense of community, it’s also jobs and livelihood. Studies show that locally owned businesses employ more people per unit of sales, and retain more employees during economic downturns, while big-box stores reduce the number of retail jobs in a region or close completely. Small businesses often pay higher than minimum wage and allow more flexible hours.

Democracy is also affected. When a high number of owners are also residents with ties to the community, there is more involvement in key decisions that shape our lives./p>

Small businesses inherently have more environmental stewardship, typically locating in existing buildings, consuming less land, carrying more locally made products, locating closer to residents and creating less traffic and pollution. In an area combating sea level rise, every action counts.

Let us lean in. We have a determined small business community and an ever-growing entrepreneurial movement across Hampton Roads. Look for each of the 17 localities to promote and uphold this celebration in support of small businesses.

If every household shifted just 10% more to local spending the investment would be significant. Public school funding, infrastructure projects and emergency responder budgets all would benefit and that alone is worth supporting.

Lisa Renee Jennings is LOVEVA Buy Local program manager for the Retail Alliance. Reach her at ljennings@retailalliance.com.