The Pros This past week, I had the pleasure of seeing Aaron Thielen and Michael Mahler’s “Hero, the Musical” at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, which premiered in Chicago. As the lead character Hero expressed appreciation for his world and exclaimed, “there is wonder all around,” I absorbed the words and reflected on how this theme could apply to the Sarasota community. What are the wondrous parts of Sarasota that may, at times, be taken for granted? I couldn’t help but consider locally owned businesses in Sarasota! Why are local businesses so important? The following list, adapted from the Portland Buy Local campaign’s “Top 10 Reasons to Buy Local,” presents a few of the positive aspects of local business in Sarasota County.
1. Keep money in the local economy and create jobs.
When you buy local, more money stays within your community. Maine Center for Economic Policy conducted a study on economic impacts of buying goods from local businesses in Portland (“Going Local, Quantifying the Economic Impacts of Buying from Locally Owned Businesses in Portland, Maine” by Amar Patel and Garrett Martin) . According to this report, in Greater Portland, spending $100 dollars in a locally owned business has a $25 greater economic impact on the community than spending $100 at a national chain store. Further “based on 2007 retail sales figures, shifting 10% of consumer spending to locally owned businesses would result in an additional $127 million in economic activity in Greater Portland with 874 new job generating over $35 million in wages.
2. Maintain individuality and uniqueness of Sarasota County.
One local treasure that shapes the identity of Sarasota County are the local artists! In “Does Sarasota do enough to support local artists?” Jessie Van Berkel highlights the issue of ignoring local treasure by outsourcing artists rather than commissioning local art. In this article, Ted Gola (who produced “SRQ Tic Tac Toe”) is quoted saying “They [Sarasota locals] are being defined by somebody who doesn’t understand the dynamics, the habits, the things that really shape the place.” This quote embodies the importance of local art in preserving the unique identity of Sarasota County.
3. “Benefit From Local Owners’ Expertise.”
Every Saturday, the Farmer’s Market attracts many vendors and consumers downtown, and it’s like a different world. Vendors at the organic vegetable stand help you choose a new vegetable to try when you’re feeling adventurous and tell you their favorite way to prepare it. At another stand, the vendor tells you how exactly she makes candied jalapenos. When the business owner works closely with their product and the customer, there is a greater potential for transparency and shared information about the product.
4. “Preserve Entrepreneurship” and Increase Choice
As stated by President Barack Obama, “Entrepreneurs embody the promise of America: the idea that if you have a good idea and are willing to work hard and see it through, you can succeed in this country. And in fulfilling this promise, entrepreneurs also play a critical role in expanding our economy and creating jobs.” The development of local businesses preserves entrepreneurship, which is labeled as a positive force due to the entrepreneurs’ role in economic growth and innovation. As well, when there are many small businesses, consumers have more choices!
In pondering the ways we as a community can support local businesses and become more conscious about how we are spending, I tracked my own spending for two weeks as someone living in Sarasota. One thing I discovered was that I tend to spend more money at chain stores than locally owned businesses. (Note: I did not consider monthly, required payments in personal spending). Since then, I have reflected and recognized four challenges I face in my own life when deciding how to spend money: accessibility, affordability, routine, and awareness.
Focusing specifically on grocery shopping, the first challenge I face is accessibility. I don’t have a car, so I mostly rely on public transit to get around. I have (mostly) learned how to condense all of my groceries into one fabric bag! However, using public transit extends travel time. Given my fully scheduled weekly routine and the limited evening hours for the bus route, this doesn’t give me much time to become aware of Sarasota’s local businesses during the week by exploring, or even access the ones I’m aware of. Thus, I take the bus or walk to the closest chain grocery store in my free time because it’s accessible. As well, chain stores have sales like “buy one, get one” increasing the affordability of groceries.
While everyone may be faced with challenges, some can be overcome! For example, word of mouth (or internet research) will help you become aware of Sarasota’s local businesses. Perhaps you can ride-share with another patron of the same business if you have limited transportation! As for affordability, one could potentially pick and choose what products they buy from local businesses. Personally, in attempt to patron local businesses, I joined a farm co-op, which I heard about through a friend and co-worker, who also takes me with her when she picks up her produce (solving both the accessibility, routine, and awareness challenge). It provides me with all of my weekly produce, and I continue to shop at chain grocery stores for other groceries to stay within my budget.
This post isn’t to demand a complete disconnect from the global economy; the interconnected world economy has many positive factors-- for example, even though “Hero, the Musical” opened in Chicago, it is currently being performed in Sarasota! Globalization has allowed us to share the benefit of technological advances, art, food, medical advances, etc. Rather, this post was designed to challenge everyone to recognize the treasures within the Sarasota community; it’s to promote both the awareness of where the money we spend is going and to promote the nurturing of the local economy through the utilization and appreciation of its resources. As well, we should consider the impact of our consumer choices on other societies and economies, rejecting the practice of exploitation of other human beings in the name of “efficiency.”
There is wonder all around the Sarasota community, from the arts to the local foods. Where do you see wonder in Sarasota? To address one barrier (awareness), we can compile a list of locally owned businesses in Sarasota! To contribute, just comment below or submit your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org!