When we moved recently, we mourned the loss of our busy little suburban shopping street with its bustling cafes, grocer, butchers, bakers, and clothing and gift shops. We relocated to a more rural suburb on the edge of the city where five out of 20 shops stood vacant long-term along a busy highway and signs of life were limited. We mentally sighed as we resigned ourselves to having to travel further afield to buy the necessities.
However, on our first day in our new rental, I took a walk to buy some milk and was pleasantly surprised to find that what had seemed dead and devoid of charm held some surprising little secrets. Several restaurants and takeaways, a small supermarket, two hairdressers, a pharmacy, a florist, a liquor store, a vet and a dentist, two garden centers—one with a vintage style cafe—a great bakery, a newsagent, and a cycling shop were all on offer. In the next suburb along, just five minutes down the road, we found even more shops, supermarkets, cafes, hairdressers, and clothes shops, some of which are now among my preferred places to shop.
That was 10 months ago.
It wasn’t until my daughter remarked recently that the restaurant around the corner from our house was owned by one of her school-friends’ parents that I understood what shopping locally really means. Until now, I have shopped locally whenever I can because I believe in supporting small businesses, because it’s convenient, and because I enjoy the quirkiness and individuality that smaller shops offer. Large, corporate conglomerates who bulk buy at dirt cheap prices and exploit developing world low wage pricing may be better for my budget, but I always feel slightly uncomfortable about how cheaply they can produce goods. Hurrah, I get a fantastic bargain, but I wonder what the individual who made it in China or India got. Is she being paid a pittance? Is she able to feed and clothe her family on what she gets paid? Or do my bargains come at the expense of her family’s well-being? On the other hand, if I didn’t buy the bargains offered up by global companies, would she even have a job in the first place?
Which is the lesser of two evils?
In realizing that my daughter’s friend’s parents owned our local restaurant, I have begun to see local businesses more as they should be seen: as feeding and clothing families who literally live around me in my neighborhood. When a local business struggles, a local family struggles. Another of my daughter’s friends remarked this week that the restaurant owners’ daughter couldn’t go dancing because she had no money. This bald statement took my breath away, but for children it is simple. They don’t hide the truth, they don’t dodge or dance around issues.
My heart is for community. I don’t want the kids in my children’s classes to be limited. I want them to do well, I want to support families who are struggling, I want to create jobs for people. If we generate income for others, they generate income for us. I choose to change from my regular hairdresser who is well-established and successful to a friend who has school-aged children and her own salon at home. I will buy handmade gifts from friends who are starting their own businesses. I will support friends who are direct-selling through home parties because it means food in their children’s mouths, clothes on their backs, holidays so that they can relax and get a break, a car so that they can drive to work.
Perhaps I am being idealistic. Perhaps I cannot change the world with my shopping choices. Perhaps when it comes down to it, my budget doesn’t always allow it, but I trust that whatever small thing I can do will go a long way.