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.
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?