Saturday, May 18, 2024

The old phrase “you are what you eat” is the notion that to be healthy you need to eat good foods. I’d like to introduce another concept and say “you are what you buy,” especially in light of an election in which we are seeing a discussion of macroeconomics on a micro scale.

Where you shop matters as much as what you choose to buy. For yourself and your community, there are reasons to buy products from locally owned stores. Study after study shows that three times more of every dollar spent at a locally owned and independent business stays right here in the community. Local businesses patronize other local businesses, creating a multiplier effect: The caterer will use the florist, who will use the accountant, who will use the stationery store and so on. These bricks-and-mortar places will also pay sales and property taxes. Local stores are more likely to carry goods from other local businesses and artists.

Consumers aren’t always looking for the cheapest product. They do often look at price versus value.

You can get a book cheaper at a big box store or from Amazon, but you lose that interaction with the local bookseller who can spend a few minutes discussing what you read, host book clubs and who may point you in literary directions you have never considered — all for a few dollars more.

This election is all about the economy and keeping jobs, and local businesses provide and create the most jobs for residents. They also help foster entrepreneurship, and as energy prices continue to rise, local businesses are becoming more competitive as products travel shorter distances between the local stores.

In addition, cultural tourism is on the rise, and local businesses play a role. Harvard Square is an international destination because you can’t go anywhere else to see the Curious George Store or to buy 25-cent gum from Leavitt & Peirce, a 127-year-old Cambridge business.

We know this country is facing huge debts. The way we combat the deficit reduction and resist a recession is to focus on rapid economic growth. By investing in our local businesses, we do not have to have unused productive capacity in which unemployment is owed to a deficiency of demand to slow the economy further.

Every dollar you spend makes a difference; take advantage of the wealth of options in your own community to build a better economy and keep those dollars circulating right here at home, including crowdfunding — with the crowdfunding bill passed in the Jobs Act, it allows public investment in private businesses and start-ups. These local businesses are your friends, your neighbors and your community. Without local business the fundamental character of the community is diminished and becomes virtually indistinguishable from any other retail development populated with generic, impersonal chain stores.

For a few dollars more spent at a local business you will have an incalculable positive impact on your community that you can value for years to come.

Janneke House is executive director of Cambridge Local First, a network of locally owned and independent businesses formed in 2005.