In the past few months — since the covid-19 pandemic really got a foothold in the world and U.S., causing numerous lockdowns, shutdowns, stay-at-home orders, etc. — there have been a ton of memes on social media from people (mostly those who identify as “conservatives”) complaining about how the shutdown is hurting “main street small businesses. Now as the U.S. slowly “opens up” I’m seeing, from pretty much the same group of people, memes urging us in this country to “buy American” rather than (for example) labels marked “Made in China.”
While I personally am a big supporter of doing business in my neighborhood with locally-owned establishments, and do not have a problem with “buying American” I DO have a problem with and like to call out hypocrisy. But instead of posting a silly cliche meme on social media, I’m just going to write my message to these people who believe in and support “mom-and-pop businesses” and buying stuff made in the good ol’ USA, to put your money where your mouth is … in other words, practice what you preach. Either that or stop preaching. Please.
Ever since my first news reporter job back in the late 80s (that’s 1980’s, by the way, not 1880s) in a town of about 3,000 people at the time, I’ve been very much conscious of the concept of buying from local businesses. I knew as a newspaper employee that money from the businesses who bought ads with our paper helped pay our wages, so that was incentive to buy at those businesses. Back then the town where I had that first news job had two jewelry stores, a hardware store, a couple shoe and clothing stores …. everything you needed, you could find downtown there.
Not so anymore. In the ensuing years, a couple of “big box stores” came to town near the freeway (or interstate, if you will) and the downtown kind of, well, shriveled up. I used to go to that same town for many years to get my hair done. I’d look around at all the empty storefronts downtown and just be sad for the small-town businesses being pre-empted by big-box corporate-run stores. But I guess that’s “progress” to some people and oh yeah, the big stores “create jobs” and so that makes it ok … or does it??
My inspiration for this article came from my having had words the other with a man on social media over a “buy local” meme another friend had posted. I basically said I was sick of the whining (in the form of memes posted by people who, for the most part, swing to the “right” politically) about how our local businesses are hurting, and supposedly being “forced” to shut down because of our governor’s (I live in an upper midwestern state in the U.S.) shutdown order. Funny, because it seems from a glance that in my town it’s pretty much business as usual.
So, I did an informal survey today and came to this conclusion about this place I call home (population 1,700, give or take). And unlike many towns of this size, you can find almost anything you may want here, as we have a nice vibrant downtown business scene. Sure, our bars are closed and most of our restaurants are carryout only, though most eating places in the vicinity are still open for business. But our hardware store, two antique stores, sporting goods store, auto parts store and others (in addition to our grocery and drug stores) are all open. Another one of our local stores did not have to shut down though the owner made the choice to take a break for a while.
So, as I said: Pretty much business as usual. So tell me again how is this shutdown hurting small-town downtown businesses? I’m pretty sure it’s not the politicians that are “destroying” our businesses. What IS hurting these local business owners is that the local people aren’t doing (a lot of) business there.
Simple casual observation will bear this out. For example, I don’t think that most of our locally-owned establishments (that is, the non-bar or non-restaurant ones) ever have 10 people shopping at them at any given time — usually the number is less than 10 — so social distancing shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe this is true only when I go to these stores; for all I know they are doing LOTS of business on days I’m not there. The dollar store in our town, which is usually fairly busy, doesn’t count because it isn’t owned by anyone in this town. Hmmm; interesting.
On the other hand, when you go to our county seat (population about 13,000, where there are many more big-box retailers) you will see — as it has been for the entirety of the shutdown — that all the grocery stores, as well as the large corporate stores (that do not deserve publicity, so I won’t mention names) are quite often bustling with customers. Hmmmm, again. Kind of makes you wonder whether those people foaming at the mouth about supporting small-town local businesses are actually doing so themselves? Or are they shopping at (insert name of big store in the big town/city)?? Is this another case of “Do as I say, never mind what I do?” kind of hypocrisy that is, umm, nauseating?
On a related note, I said to a friend the other day, “I wonder whether those groups protesting the ‘shutdown’ are made up more of people who have been ‘furloughed’ because of the shutdown, or are they people who are pissed because they can’t go out to eat and/or drink?” My friend replied, “Probably the latter,” with which I agree. I wonder if they realize that it’s cheaper to eat and/or drink at home. But I digress …
By all means, all of you who “support” locally-owned businesses, shop wherever you like. However, it would be nice if you all would actually support, with your money, our local stores, instead of just making a big ruckus about how “small businesses” are taking such a beating. It’s a free country, in spite of what some people say, and you can spend your money wherever you like. I’m just saying that you might want to check your own shopping habits before you point fingers at others for their choices. Practice what you preach; as the old saying goes, “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Personally, I try to do business locally where I can. I admit I succumb to the allure of online shopping because for some things — like shoes — one can get unique items for a smaller price tag (though I’m trying really hard to avoid a “certain” web site whose name I won’t mention, and succeeding…yay me!!) Shop locally, save our downtown businesses … or else they might go away.