Independents and the Big Box Swindle

Part of our mission at RelyLocal is to inform our neighbors of the power their choices have. We create the kind of local economy that we want by how we choose to spend our money.

I encourage you to listen to the following radio interview with Stacy Mitchell, author of the book Big Box Swindle. The book was published a few years ago and the movement to buy local has benefited from the startling facts she reveals.

This interview is from KFOG radio and is fairly brief – only 15 minutes. I think it is well worth a listen. One of the biggest points to take away from this interview is that big box stores are contributing to a negative cycle wherein they force suppliers to meet a very low price point, which can only be met by sending manufacturing overseas. This results in the loss of manufacturing jobs here in the US. The jobs supposedly created by these big box stores do not pay a living wage, so the people who might have worked at a good paying job in manufacturing are making significantly less at the big box store, if they can even get a job. At the same time, the appeal of rock bottom prices (she debunks this promise too) drives local shoppers to the big box store and away from independent, locally-owned stores. Those independents then end up closing down, laying off workers and creating a net loss of jobs in the area.

Mitchell encourages a three fold approach:

  • Revise planning and land-use policies to prevent continued overdevelopment of big-box retail
  • Channel economic development resources into initiatives that strengthen local businesses and help new entrepreneurs get started.
  • Build public awareness of the benefits of choosing locally owned stores over chains.

I don’t hold much sway over policy or land-use planning in these parts, so I’ll leave the first element to more politically-minded folks. I really support the alternative of incubating homegrown entrepreneurs and having cities and towns throw their subsidies behind them instead. (Any creative ideas about this? I know the SBDC has a lot of help for small business… what are some other creative ideas?) And of course, our whole mission with RelyLocal is to contribute to the third idea.

A new highlight of my week is to sit in the wind and sun at Tommy Diamond’s Festival Market, held at independent restaurant Franky’s Diner every Sunday. We are not selling anything, but I ask everyone who passes by “Are you a High Desert resident?” After a cautious sideways glance, most of them say yes and I tell them we are here to encourage our local residents to Buy Local, RelyLocal. I have lost track of how many of them respond strongly that they LOVE to shop at local stores. Many also have talked about their favorites, shared experiences and volunteered that they try to buy American too. I love love LOVE these interactions and sharing with people who think that the High Desert has nothing to offer just gets me revved up!

We can’t do it alone though! We need local businesses to stand with us and join the movement. If you want to stand up for independent business and strengthen our local economy, send us an email or give us a call. We are all in this together, and together we can do it!

Image: Some rights reserved by mil8

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