Thinking of others
The town I grew up in had a tiny commercial district. The heart of it was on two sides of two blocks.
There were stores on both sides of Main Street (yes - our town had a Main Street) on the block between College Street and Vine Street. My sister now owns a business at the corner of Main and Vine, but growing up, people never made it down to that corner.
It was too far.
There were also stores along the south side of College Street for two blocks.
There were other stores but that was mostly it.
There was the college book store, a jeweler, a men’s wear store, two pharmacies, two bakeries, a 5 and 10, a sporting goods store, a hardware store, …
You could buy stuff downtown.
There were no fast food restaurants downtown until Burger Chef moved in when I was fourteen. It was beyond a car dealership that was also a gas station and a garage. It was beyond the movie theatre with its one big beautiful screen.
I remember three grocery stores - now there’s one.
The big tax break that the previous administration gave to big companies was part of the decades long myth of “trickle down economics.”
The idea is that if we give the Amazons and Walmarts of the world more money, they will pass along that money to us.
They never do.
I have my own private version of trickle down economics.
I know that it will cost me more to buy a book from an independent bookseller than it costs me to order it from Amazon.
You can think of that difference as a tax.
And when I give my tax dollars directly to Powells, Raven, Duck Soup, or Mac’s Backs, they spend it to stay open and to employ their staff members.
I still sometimes order from Amazon. Sometimes I want a digital version of a book or sometimes I selfishly don’t want to wait until my local bookshop is able to get it. It’s way too convenient to buy from them.
But when I can and when I think of it I stop and buy from an independent.
This morning I ordered two books from Mac’s Backs. Maybe if enough of us do they’ll be able to stay open. Maybe they won’t have to lay off an employee. It’s so good for our community. I will try to remember it more often.
There’s always a but.
“But, I can’t afford it.”
If you can’t afford it, I understand. There are tough choices to make and if you can’t afford it then you must think of your own needs first.
“But, it’s more expensive.”
Yes, it often is.
It may cost a bit more to buy the exact same yogurt at your local grocer than it does to buy it from Walmart.
But that’s because we’re already paying Walmart so much.
They keep many of their employees under a set number of hours so they don’t have to pay medical benefits. They close a store in one community and open one in the city next door because their tax incentive in the first one expired and the new community is offering them a tax deferral.
The tax I pay for not shopping at Walmart is a luxury. But I want Miles Farmers Market and Heinens to continue to exist.
I shop at big box stores too. (Not Walmart - I’ve been to Walmart three times that I can remember.)
I order things online from big outlets too. I bought a bunch of vegetables from local places but ordered some spices online because I couldn’t find them near me.
I’m just suggesting taking steps in the right direction.
I’m saying we can eat less meat without becoming vegetarian or vegan.
I’m saying we can get on a bicycle now and then without vowing to never drive or fly anywhere ever again.
Little steps are still steps.
I love the idea of shopping local, but maybe your area doesn’t have something you want or need.
If you can, try to shop independent.
I worry about us coming out of the pandemic having lost so much of what makes our towns our towns.
I know things change. The world is a different place. But where you spend your money might just be the answer to the question of why so many people you know can’t find work.
Even among big box stores, some are better to their communities than others. Some pay their workers better. Some give money to the schools.
Try to support the people who are making your community into a place you want to live.
The town I grew up in has no downtown pharmacy. No jeweler. No men’s store. It no longer has the amazing independent college bookstore that Bill Long made great from top to bottom. The big screen in the movie theatre has been split. The car dealership is closed.
It’s kind of like climate change.
The actions each of us takes matters.
The time we have to stem the loss of so much that we need to live is short.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 57. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe