Wednesday, March 13, 2013

GONE LOCAL Week Ten: Now's the Time

I’ve always thought that as our society has progressed (relative term), locally owned businesses have been slowly picked off one by one, leaving us with a homogenized majority of stores. The stores of my youth – the Creamy Freeze, Save-a-Cent, and Lakes Market are long gone. But as I’ve gone in search of the locally owned stores I’ve discovered there is truly an abundance of them. Something is happening now. There is an energy, a movement if you will, that is re-focusing consumers on buying local again. Much of the growth that is slowly lifting us out of this recession is coming from small businesses – locally owned.

My best guess for the reason behind the momentum is two trends I’ve observed. The first trend was made necessary by the recession. This is the trend towards simpler lives. When things get hairy in terms of financial and physical security, we hunker down and focus on what’s most important to us – our health and our happiness.

For some, the recession meant an unexpected change of careers. While many lamented the dire situation, a brave number of people embraced the opportunity to pursue their dreams. New locally owned businesses have cropped up in record numbers. Craft shows are flourishing. Local artists are finding inventive ways to partner with communities to share, and profit from, their talents.

The second “trend,” and I am loathe to call it a trend, is organics. Due to increased awareness, health crisis, and sheer taste, the organic market has been growing by leaps and bounds, despite a lengthy recession. Organically made products are by necessity, local businesses. Without the benefit of preservatives, additives, and stabilizers, organic products have a shorter shelf life and can’t be wasting those precious days traveling across the world.

So, my unverified, lightly researched, but highly experienced theory is that now is the time to jump on the Buy Local bandwagon. If you are a potential business owner, the wave is headed upward and it would be wise to jump on before it crests. New locally owned businesses are popping up almost daily.

Last week, I tried out a new bakery and café in York, TheLadybug Café, where you can find “deconstructed cupcakes” which are essentially a crumbled cupcake, a glop of filling, and a scoop of icing you eat with a fork. Sounds awful, but is fabulous and a lot easier to eat than a fancy cupcake. Nothing drips down your front and you don’t have to decide between icing or cake. Their eating area boasts free wifi, children’s play area, TV, and even a gas fireplace. My gourmet grilled cheese with roasted peppers was divine, and the service was enthusiastic and friendly.

A new clothing boutique is next on my list of places to visit.  Arthur and Daughters opened March 1 in York.  The North Beaver street store (just a few doors up from the Ladybug) offers women’s designer consignment and vintage clothing and accessories, plus new clothing from emerging designers whose products are made in the USA. My daughter, the clothes horse, and I will check it out this weekend.

I’m anxiously awaiting word of the Vintage Wine bar to open in Downtown York in the old Maple Donuts site on the square. And one of my favorite new stands at the Central Market is Springleaf which offers organically grown and absolutely delicious vegetables. Try one of their cucumbers grown in the greenhouse and you’ll think it’s already summer.

Patronizing the locally owned businesses around you not only guarantees a rewarding experience in terms of products and services, but it rewards you in terms of community also. These entrepreneurs who have stepped out to realize their dream and offer us quality products and services need our business and our support.

The government seems to stack the deck against small businesses time and again. I witnessed it on the local level this past week when our Township shut down the Farmer’s Market by withdrawing its support. The chairperson of the Supervisor’s Board actually said, “I don’t believe the township should be supporting businesses.” I can still hear his ridiculous words echoing in my head.

If our local governments aren’t going to support the local businesses and farms then it is up to us. If not, the countryside will soon be littered with Big Box stores and parking lots.

There is something else you can do. You can vote. When primaries come around this spring and elections in the fall, take the time to investigate which politicians support local businesses and farms, and not just with their mouths. It’s easier than ever to contact candidates through the internet and e-mail. Ask potential leaders how they plan to support the local economy and local businesses. And then hold them accountable.

It’s important to vote with our pocketbooks, but it’s equally important, especially at the local level, to vote with our votes. 

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