Other Voices: Local shopping is key to our prosperity | TheUnion.com
Margaret Bloebaum

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Other Voices: Local shopping is key to our prosperity

I was disturbed to read, among the “Non-Shoppers” comments in a recent edition of The Union, the comment, “I spent the day shopping around online. It’s easier, there are better deals than in Grass Valley and I wasn’t pushed or shoved around.”

I was born, raised and spent my entire life in major cities. I’m accustomed to being able to get whatever I want or need by shopping the stores in my city. But all that changed last Dec. 10, when we moved from Los Angeles to Grass Valley.

The adjustment has been considerable. I’ve had to rethink my needs to fit my new hometown, and have done some exploring to find out what is available here.

Because, in spite of my online accounts with several Internet merchants, I’m committed to doing as much of my business as possible with local merchants and service providers.

Most of us use the Internet for information, communication, recreation, and commerce. It’s enhanced our ability to obtain information about everything imaginable. It’s enabled us to connect with people all over the world quickly, easily and inexpensively. And it has broadened the scope of products available to us from those in our own cities to the global marketplace.

All of this is well and good, and I have taken advantage of all these uses many times. But in the last few years, a nagging unease has crept into my consciousness, and that’s what jumped up at me when I read that comment.

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Grass Valley and Nevada City are hometowns in the best sense of the word. There are multiple generations of families here, and everyone seems to know everyone. Between the business districts of the two towns are most of the goods and services we need in our daily lives, and most of those businesses are locally owned.

We could easily meet the bulk of our commercial needs here. And for the unusual things we may need, I’ve never seen so many street fairs, craft and art shows, and special vendor events in one place in my life.

And yet, in spite of our diverse and appealing business districts and the revenues they raise, there are also local infrastructure and improvement projects that go begging, and if the Letters to the Editor are any gauge, a lot of people don’t understand why.

I believe that there is a logical reason: If we don’t support our local businesses, they cannot support our local governments with their sales taxes. That is why I believe that the Internet is doing serious damage to local economies.

So here are a few things to consider.

Do you know where the online businesses you frequent are located – in what town and state? Because that’s where they’re paying taxes. Not in Grass Valley. Not in Nevada County. Maybe not even in California.

Have you talked to the people who own businesses here? How has the loss of business to the Internet affected them?

How much do you know about the financial status of Grass Valley? What is the cash-flow? How has it changed in recent years? What are the projected revenues? What is the status of some of the improvement projects that have been in the pipeline?

I don’t want to imply that Internet commerce is solely responsible for the loss of local business, but just as Wal-Mart has been held largely responsible for the decline of Main Street in small town America, I believe the Internet is having a similar effect.

But the newspapers report on the woes of merchants who bemoan the slowing down of business, even at the B&M (brick and mortar) malls, even between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The crowds aren’t there, not the way they used to be. Our former tenant, who drove a UPS truck, mentioned how much more he was delivering in the past couple of years and how much of it was merchandise from online vendors.

The people who run the businesses in our town are our neighbors. They count on us for their success. The sales taxes we pay that they pass on are at least partially spent here. If you go to one of our many bookstores instead of clicking on Amazon, you’re not only helping ensure the success and prosperity of that business, but are also ensuring that our local government will have more resources to work with when we need a pothole filled or a new school playground.

So when civic managers say that they can’t upgrade our roads or expand the library, or – the ultimate irony – upgrade the computers in the schools, we need to take a look at our own buying habits.

Even if we shop at the local outlet of a national chain, we’re contributing to the tax base of our community. We may pay a little more to shop on Mill Street instead of from, say, Shopping.com, but we aren’t paying shipping, and we are supporting our commercial community. The less we shop locally, the fewer oportunities we’ll eventually have to do so, because even the healthiest local merchant can’t compete forever with the online behemoths.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t ever shop online. There are things that I can’t get locally that are available over the Internet, and those things I will purchase online until they become available locally. But I’m committed to the continued prosperity of my new hometown, and that means that I buy my hardware here instead of driving down the hill to Home Depot, and I shop the gift shops here instead of searching online for tschotschkies. I may be paying a little more, but I’m also ensuring that our local hardware store will be there when I need it, and that my community will benefit from my spending habits.

We can shop anywhere, but we have to live in our community. So it’s up to us to ensure its prosperity.

Margaret Bloebaum lives in Grass Valley.