When the novel coronavirus COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, shopping habits changed dramatically and immediately.
One of the headlines that made me cringe was something like “Amazon hires 100,000 new employees”. As many of my local businesses were closing for a week (and then, indefinitely), it grieved me that Amazon — the business with already so much of the market share, so much in the bank, the richest man in the world in charge, and which would surely fire everyone as soon as they weren't needed — would grow even more.
But, I also didn’t begrudge anyone from shopping there, either! Where do you buy educational workbooks or board games and the odds & ends you need when you are suddenly housebound?!
But, we're in a tricky spot right now. Where you spend your money will make the difference for some people between thriving and surviving, between open doors and bankruptcy.
Budgets are tight, tighter than ever, and I know multiple people who are living in "austerity measures", buying as absolutely little as possible because of either lost jobs or impending income loss. I realize this! This writing may sound like an assumption of wealth, but it's not about spending a lot; it's that eventually, we're all spending some amount of money, somewhere, and so I'm just thinking about how to be smart about it and spend well.
What I love about small businesses is that in the face of adversity, small biz owners can be very innovative! Many are adapting to the challenges in the best ways they can. Others are simply closing — to save rent and reassess their business model, maybe. What is unchanged is that business is powered by customers.
If you’ve ever wondered if your small voice (or your small spending) matters: it does!
Your shopping choices matter now more than ever!
Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle chronicles the author’s year of eating only food that her family grew or could obtain locally. It is, arguably, an account steeped in wealth — few of us have the space, time, climate, or land access (not to mention family buy-in!) to accomplish this. But something that stood out to me in that account was this:
When we buy out-of-season produce that has travelled a long way, we begin to depend on it. Then our eating habits change altogether and we no longer create the same demand for in season produce. Local growers can’t get the same sales, because the interest isn't there — customers are buying from a bigger array of options and aren't necessarily swayed by seasonality or locality. The result is: fewer local growers!
It was one of the first things I thought about when the grocery stores were bursting with people stocking up: my food system (personally) is 100% reliant on outside sources — I grow/preserve absolutely nothing. I also haven't done much to support my local food system. When life changed dramatically, I was face-to-face with my part in how precarious my situation is!
I want to support sustainable business. I want to have local stores to go to, to have small online businesses that do good work and treat people well and are helpful.
But, it is necessary to believe that my dollars really do matter. Right now, you can ask any small business whether that's true, and they will provide a resounding: YES!