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Column

Small Business Saturday: One day each year is not enough

Strengthen your community by shopping local on regular basis

Did you buy a little something a day or two after Thanksgiving? Thanks to groups like our Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Saturday and the “Shop Small” campaign have offered energetic reminders about buying from people we know. They deserve our thanks -- and our business.

But one day’s worth of effort is not enough. “Shop small” and “buy local” need to be more than just clever slogans to get us to use our American Express cards.

A recent survey found that 93 percent of Americans believe it’s important to support the small businesses they value in their community. But why don’t more of us act on that belief? 

For every penny we spend at places like Amazon and big box stores, every time somebody in a hurry passes by the local places and people we treasure, Princeton’s pieces of the American pie get smaller.

Instead of paying the majority of each dollar they make to local accountants, local lawyers, local cleaning services, local repair and maintenance services, the big businesses like Amazon, big shopping malls, big bookstores, big office suppliers, big home supply stores requiring big parking lots and big public investments, come and go when they discover that they can make more money elsewhere.

It’s a numbers game.

Yes, the “bigs” employ local people. But recent research tells a different story. For every $10 million spent for products from Amazon, only 14 jobs are created. The same amount spent at local, independent, “brick-and-mortar” businesses would create 57 jobs.

Small businesses account for 65 percent of all new jobs. Independent restaurants return two times more than chain restaurants to local economies.

Who employs the most people in communities across the United States? Who gives the most to charities and social services?

Think again. It’s locally owned small businesses on both counts.

They are asked for donations more often, and they give much more often. Locally owned small businesses devote twice as much as chain stores and non-local corporations contribute to local nonprofits.

And they give substantially more of their income than the minuscule one-half percent of each Amazon Smiles sale.

Here’s a different number to ponder — 253. One Princeton resident who cares about this stuff reports that he has directly transacted business with 253 local enterprises in the past two years.

“To count, in my mind,” he says, “means you get more than my money and I get more than your products or services. You impressed or inspired me. You made me laugh or made me remember something that you didn’t have to do but did it anyway because it was the right thing to do — for you, your family, your business or organization, and your neighbors, maybe even for the world at large. You make me want to come back.”

The same person adds, “You are on my list because each of us did something of value for the other, not just for profit or to line our own nests. You asked for my advice or I asked for yours. You may have volunteered for something that mattered to people I know, or I did something similar for you.”

In these times of mean-spirited politics, climate change and anxiety about so many things, those kinds of business practices can have big implications for our quality of life.

What’s special about small, local businesses is not just the things we buy, but the people we meet in the transaction. That sort of encounter doesn’t occur if you are merely a unit in a target market segment or a persona in some far-away company’s database enhancement strategy.

“Shop Small ... and Local” are two absolutely critical actions that can make a tremendous difference, not only the day after Thanksgiving or on Cyber Monday. We all can choose where we buy things, invest our money and give our time. And the farther away the money goes, the less concern for each other as whole people, not just customers, enters into the equation.

If we could only harness the positive energy of Homestead Days and “Remember Princeton When” all year round! Real people in Princeton need to earn a living and want to have meaningful jobs. We’re neighbors and citizens, entrepreneurs and producers, taxpayers and families with needs and wants that go beyond the one-click checkout.

Does where we shop really matter? Or do we just keep on buying more from corporations that care more about numbers than human beings; more about quantity than quality?

I think not. You’re worth knowing better than that, and this discussion is definitely not “just business.”

Don’t you think so? I know you do. 

Note to readers: Rick Brooks is a business adviser with the Small Business Development Center of the Starved Rock Country Alliance. His office at the Amtrak Depot in Princeton has a sign on the door that says “You Are Here.”

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