Friday, July 24, 2009

Be Neighborly - Buy Locally

One of the (many) things we love about life in Italy is the sense of community. People gather in the piazzas, chat on park benches, and meet regularly for un caffe` or aperitivo in their favorite haunt. The mom-and-pop shop is still alive and well and steadfastly supported by neighborhood residents.

We knew that when we bought veggies at the mercato dell'erbe the person we were buying from was also the grower. My butchers (yes plural, one for meat and lamb, another who specialized in poultry and pork) were small operators who knew personally where the products came from, nothing traveling far to reach their shops. The folks at the salumeria carefully crafted the prosciutto and salami they were selling, and carried a wide range of formaggi from local farms. They were finicky when it came to which out-of-region cheese makers they would sell, opting only for the parmiggiano or mozzerella that fit their standards.

The supermercato in the centro that I frequented was locally-owned but aligned with a consortium for buying power, much like the Ace or True Value hardware stores around here. Ascoli has no chain restaurants in the centro (and even very few outside it) and while there are chain fashion stores scattered around town, there are still just as many (or more) sole proprietor businesses there, too.

We developed connections with the owners, so when we announced our departure they expressed how sad they were to see us go, and some even unabashedly cried.

Such is the way of life in many parts of Italy and we love it. They recognize that having shops in the neighborhood that you can walk to is an asset, and that having a chiacchierata (chat) with the owner or your neighbors while you're there is a nice thing, too.

We're fortunate that here in Cleveland Heights this kind of community spirit is still fairly well alive. A locally-owned (and very nice) grocery store is just two blocks away. There are two streets within a short walkable distance that boast many different ethnic eateries and coffee bars, and they organize street fairs and open-air movie nights.

Buying local feels good, and studies show that it keeps more money in the local economy than the corporate giants. Of course, in today's world you can't find everything you need at mom-and-pop shops. I realize that. But the rise of "town center" malls is disturbing to me. Why build a fake "town" when you can support the real one in which you live.

That's why I was happy to read about 3/50 project in a Plain Dealer column. The concept is simple:

3/ What 3 independently-owned businesses would you miss if they disappeared? Stop in. Say hello. Pick up something that brings a smile. Your purchases are what keeps those businesses around.

50/ If half the employed population spend $50 each month in locally owned independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. Imagine the impact if 3/4 of the employed population did that. (According to US Labor Department statistics.)

For every $100 spent in local independently owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spend that much in a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.

We are already committed to buying locally whenever possible. But I think this challenge of 3/50 is very doable for those who may not have thought about it in quantative (or quality of life) terms before. Spending $50 of your monthly budget in a local shop, restaurant, or grocery store is easy to do, and may just garner you some friends!

So will you join me? Visit those 3 shops that you would hate to see go away forever. Spend your date night in a local eatery. Make your neighborhood Ace or True Value your first stop for hardware needs before going to the big box store. Grab your pizza at the family-run pizzeria, or your burger from a pub instead of a national chain. Visit the area's farmers markets.

It not only makes you feel good about helping your local economy and supporting your town's business owners, it gives you real connections with people in your area. And being neighborly and helping to foster a sense of community is something we could all enjoy, don't you think?


Alan said...

Interesting idea. I've owned small businesses, so it pains me when I see one fail. I'd rather get a tooth pulled than visit Walmart, but Walmart is popular because people perceive it as providing something that others don't.

I wish more people recognized the value a well run local business can provide. We each have our own subjective view of that value, but maybe more of us are seeing that the benefits we gain from the Walmarts are not worth the cost of avoiding local businesses.

Lost in Sicily said...

Thanks for sharing this concept. I have grown so used to buying local here in Siciliy, and appreciate this part of Sicilian life so much. Here it is not much of a challenge to so, as long as the supermarkets are avoided. Back home, it is more of a challenge but can and should be done. You give many great reasons why that is and I look forward to passing the challenge on.

Valerie said...

Hi Alan - I am with you on that, I refused to spend a dime in Wal-Mart. I dislike everything about it. The adage "there is a high cost to low prices" is certainly true.

Siciliana - It's such a nice way to shop, isn't it? I love the mercati. Spread the word!

Anonymous said...

Hi Valerie, this is Lyn from Tallahassee.

Thanks for posting this info. I went to the Plain Dealer site and found the article which I'm going to send to some people I know here. There is an active group of local business people here who promote supporting our independent, unique businesses. I'm sure they will find the article about their kindred sprits in Cleveland interesting.

Hope you and Bryan are enjoying getting to know Cleveland again. You know that Anthony was born and raised there. If you ever go to Astabula stop in at the winery owned by his first cousin and her husband....Laurello Vineyards. (Here's the link to their website:

They do fabulous pizza and have a great place at the back to hang out and the wine is wonderful. I especially liked their Pinot Grigio and the iced wine. Check it out. You might feel like you are back in Italy a little bit. Also they have state of the art bocce courts. Be sure to tell them you know Anthony Gaudio.

Valerie said...

Hi Lyn! Nice to hear from you. I meant to link to the PD article and spaced it out, so thanks for reminding me.

I remember you mentioned a cousin with a vineyard but couldn't remember which one. That will be great as we are looking for a spot to meet some friends from Erie and that may be a good locale. Keep me posted on how your local business owners like the 3/50 project!

Barbara Zaragoza said...

What a fantastic post! It's so great to get the word out about buying locally. I live in Naples where there is not a Starbucks anywhere, most of the McDonalds had to shut down for lack of customers, and most people buy their goods at local markets and small business owned stores.

Yes, in the suburbs some large malls still are frequented in the droves on weekends -- where you can purchase clothes from Italian chain stores and go to the large French owned grocery stores. But, in general, I hear most people over the age of twenty-five say they buy locally.

I've become so accustomed to that mentality, it will be difficult to return to the 'big chains' of America.

Saluti from Naples!

janie said...

I love the way you're thinking and totally agree. It seems to be harder and harder to shop like this as so many small stores are closing up, which is really sad.

Context Travel said...

Great initiative. Thanks so much for spreading the word. Living in Rome (and Italy in general) really makes the choice a no-brainer, with a majority of small, family-run shops, one doesn't need to make the same conscientious decision one faces in the States. When I go back home to Brooklyn, New York, I see two sides of the coin- chain pharmacies and grocery stores replacing the mom and pop ones I remember from my childhood and a growing wave of locally owned business, symbols of our attempts to reinfuse our local economies. I make a conscious effort to support the local businesses, since I know what a big difference it makes.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Amen. This is a great idea.

I know the success of The Grove in Los Angeles is one reason more of these malls will be/are being built.

I don't get it either.

Buying local is one thing I really do appreciate about living in Rome.

South of Rome said...

Great Post!