The Shop Around the Corner

What kind of purchases do you make throughout the day? Do you stop for coffee on the way to work, fill up your car at the gas station, grab lunch at a sandwich shop, run to the mall on your lunch hour, pick up groceries on the way home or go out for drinks with friends?

How many of those purchases are made at locally owned businesses? Once you start breaking it down, you might realize that most of your shopping, dining and filling up occurs at big-box stores and international chains.

Maybe you’ve never even thought about it before.

Mike Field has put a lot of thought into it. A credit analyst at JP Morgan Chase, Field is also a community activist who helped launch Jax Cash Mob, an effort to support locally owned businesses. The group publicizes monthly gatherings at businesses to “mob” them with purchases of $10 to $20.

Field decided to take his effort a step further and is attempting to buy local for the entire month of February. You can read about his experiences on his blog. A history buff who also organizes Pop-Up History events with the Jacksonville Historical Society, Field came up with the Local February idea while looking at old photos of neighborhood grocers, butcher shops and hardware stores — the kinds of places where the people behind the counter knew your name. He wanted to find a way to reconnect to that.

“We try to shop locally and eat locally,” Field said, “but looking at my bank statement, the majority of my purchases are made at the big chain stores.”

He was also inspired by the No-Meat March movement championed by Action News meteorologist and Girls Gone Green founder Julie Watkins and Riverside Avondale Preservation Executive Director Carmen Godwin’s recent campaign to give up her car for a year. Godwin also helped launch GoLO Jacksonville, an effort to support locally owned businesses in Jacksonville’s historic urban core neighborhoods.

Only a few days into his quest, Field was already realizing the difficulty of identifying local businesses for his everyday purchases. Buying gas from locally owned stations has had him driving several miles out of his way — one time running out of gas before he arrived. Grabbing his habitual afternoon bag of chips and a soda from a nearby convenience store hasn’t been so convenient.

Grocery shopping is another challenge. The Jacksonville Farmers Market on Beaver Street has been a bountiful and inexpensive source of fresh produce and meat, but trips to Native Sun and Grass Roots Market for toiletries, cereal and milk cost more than he usually spends. He hasn’t totaled the difference yet, but he thinks it will even out.

There’s no one place to find local businesses, so Field does research, asks friends, posts questions on social media sites and talks to store owners. Bigger chain stores have massive advertising budgets, but local stores depend on word of mouth.

Field has been seeking out locally owned businesses outside his normal stomping grounds of Riverside, Avondale and Downtown. For starters, he planned to visit places in Mandarin, Southside and Jacksonville Beach.

“It’s kind of forced me to drive around the city a lot more.”

Owning a car is one luxury that Field has; another is some disposable income to pay for what he expected would be a more expensive month. He realizes that’s not something everyone can afford.

He said he has been militant about defining what “local” means during his month-long experiment. He will go to places that have multiple local locations but no chains or franchises that come from outside Northeast Florida.

So, what is local, really? It’s easy to identify mom-and-pop shops. But are businesses managed and run by local people, that hire local employees, that invest in our local economy, that participate and contribute to the community less worthy of our patronage simply because they aren’t locally owned?

Field said when we buy local, wealth is both created and retained in the community. It’s as much about making an investment in our communities and economies as it is about getting things we normally would have bought elsewhere.

“Maybe the idea is not to buy only local, but to buy local first.”

Shannon Devlin, a business process architect who started the Beaches Cash Mob, said it’s very challenging to shop purely local. But she suggested using a shop local pyramid, where the base is made up of as much locally created and locally grown products from locally owned businesses as you can get your hands on. As you go up the pyramid, you buy fewer items that aren’t local, going from neighborhood to city to state to country.

It might not be easy, but it’s a question of how much tolerance we have for inconvenience. We have created a lifestyle where if we can’t park right at the door of a business or go through the drive-through, we don’t want to go there.

“We’ve convenienced ourselves right out of our lives,” Devlin said.

We could look at walking or riding a bike to the store as an opportunity instead of a huge inconvenience.

It’s also an opportunity to recycle money and jobs within the community as you realize the impact your spending decisions can make.

“Maybe you can save $2 at this store,” Devlin said, “but where does that money you do spend go?”