Hsu: Keep It Local

by Caroline Hsu | 10/13/14 6:36pm

I come from a suburban, middle class town in central New Jersey, where industry giants like Costco and Kohl’s dominate over local boutiques and farmer’s markets. It seems like every other day an independent store hangs a dismal “going out of business” sign in its window. Living in Hanover, where local produce and indie stores have an overwhelming presence, has shown me that there is a better way of living life — rather than dumping money into monopolizing chain companies, you can build a better future by investing in independent businesses.

The motto “what goes around, comes around” is surprisingly accurate when it comes to buying local. Even from a purely economic perspective, opting to get your morning coffee from Dirt Cowboy Café rather than Starbucks has boundless benefits. It both strengthens a community’s economic standing and generates more jobs. The Maine Center for Economic Policy commissioned a study of local versus national stores in Portland, Maine, which found that buying local contributes about 76 percent more toward Portland’s economy. A stronger economy leads to more jobs — MECEP found that spending even 10 percent on local businesses instead of national businesses would create almost 900 new jobs and more than $35 million in earnings. And though wages from both national and local stores stay in the community, national chains often handle professional services (such as accounting or printing) at the national level, which takes money out of the community. Basically, when you support a local store, that store can “pass on” your money to another local store, which creates a chain of events that allows the community’s independent businesses to prosper. Patronizing independent businesses fortifies your community’s economy, thereby raising its overall standard of living and quality of life.

In recent years, global warming and declining natural resources have been hot discussion topics. Buying local reduces your environmental footprint — local businesses require less transportation. According to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, when buying from non-local markets, fresh food must travel about 1,500 miles to get from the farm to your dinner table. Imagine the harmful emissions and congestion! Locally grown food leaves a smaller imprint because it comes from smaller farming operations. Large-scale farming, organic or otherwise, often entails the use of harmful pesticides that pollute soil and water.

Patronizing local stores instead of national chains also maintains a town’s personality — nobody wants to live in a cookie-cutter town — and increases its popularity. Nantucket, Massachusetts, banned chain stores from its downtown shopping area in 2006 to boost tourism, to great effect. Hanover should think about doing the same. A large part of Hanover’s charm is from its one-of-a-kind businesses — we meet up at Salt Hill Pub, not Applebee’s. If Hanover were simply filled with typical chain stores, it would not be nearly as attractive to either tourists or, more importantly, prospective students. Living in Hanover is an undeniably unique experience compared to many college towns, and this is largely due to the presence of independent stores. We get to do the Lou’s challenge instead of relying on IHOP or Denny’s. If you shop primarily at nationally owned businesses, you indirectly hurt local businesses. Though this is a worst-case scenario, it’s possible that our independent stores would be forced to close down if we didn’t support them. Prospective students consider all aspects of a college before deciding to commit, and a college’s overall ambiance is a crucial factor — if Dartmouth is stripped of its independent charm, its allure would be greatly diminished.

So next time you choose Dirt Cowboy Café over Starbucks, give yourself a pat on the back. Even though buying local might be slightly pricier, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Caroline Hsu '18 is a contributing columnist.