Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Gone Local

It's a brand new year and the time for resolutions. Starting today I am beginning a whole new way of life, or at least way of shopping. Here is my manifesto:

I believe that my family and my community benefit when I shop from locally owned enterprises. Therefore I will shop exclusively from stores owned and operated locally, preferably from stores where I can meet the owner, even better if the owner is operating the store. 

This is basically putting my money where my mouth, or my computer keys, are. In December I wrote a column for the York Daily Record entitled, “Shop Like a Pennsylvanian.” In researching that column I stumbled upon study after study that concluded that buying from locally owned stores was better for the local economy. Essentially at least 50% of the money you spend in local establishments stays in your local community. As opposed to shopping at large retailers like Wal-Mart and Giant, which contribute far less to the local economy. 

My other motivation came from a shop keeper I encountered more than a year ago. Her words have echoed in my heart ever since. After nine years of living in this area, I had gone shopping in downtown York. Being a natural country bumpkin, I tend to stay as close to home as possible. Cities are not my thing. I ventured to York in search of a tea store reputed to have hundreds of loose teas. There was nothing like this near my little hillside, so I went exploring. I found the tea shop and a downtown farmers market and all sorts of one-of-a-kind shops. One adorably pink and sparkly shop offered handmade gifts and pottery. The owner was behind the counter as I made my purchase and I complimented her on such a lovely little store. She said she was glad I liked it but she was closing at the end of the month after nearly ten years in business. She just wasn’t making it. Her last comment to me was, “Locals just don’t shop downtown, it’s only the tourists.”  

I wasn’t aware that York was a tourist destination, but no matter, there weren’t enough to keep her shop open. I’ve thought about this a lot since that day. When purchasing food, I always try to “buy local,” purchasing produce that has been grown right here. But what about everything else? Why do I go to Walmart or Target or Giant or Dick’s for the things I need? Why do I do most of my gift shopping online?  

Honest answer? It’s cheaper and easier. I don’t have to move my butt out of my chair to make the purchase. Anything I want is only a mouse click away. I even buy shampoo and toothpaste online. I have this fetish about Drugstore.com. I just love it. Instead of standing in the shampoo aisle weighing the benefits of shiny versus full-bodied, I can collect opinions from perfect strangers who took the time to write reviews. Never mind the generalizations that could be made about the kind of people who take the time to write a 500 word review of a shampoo or toothpaste. And the shipping is free! How can you go wrong? 

But like so many other “conveniences,” I haven’t thought through the long-term consequences of my shopping habits. Who is getting my money? My best guess? One of the “one percent.” 

So instead of carping on this any longer, I’ve decided to see if I can change my ways. I’m not good at doing things half-way, so I’ve decided to go cold turkey. No more Walmart, no more Giant, no more Amazon (sharp intake of breath noted), no Drugstore.com. Can I do this? More importantly, can my family and my budget survive this decision? 

I don’t know. They certainly have some valid concerns. In light of their fears, I’ve decided to only commit this experience which begins January 1 to three months. April Fool’s Day will be the appropriate end. Or not.

My hope is that this experiment will be eye opening for all of us. I don’t believe my husband’s deep worries that I’ll blow the family budget on it will come to fruition. I know we’ll spend more on some things, but I think the intentional shopping and more importantly, quitting the online shopping habit, will counter those increases.  

I’m more worried about the sacrifices. Is there any decent local wine? Where will I buy my expensive, super-soft toilet paper? Will my kids survive a dirth of Cheezits? And just how much am I willing to spend on cat food? Hair care products could very well be my breaking point.  

So here goes. I’m launching this campaign at the start of a new year. I invite you to join me in thinking carefully about your own shopping habits. I promise to be honest about the difficulties, triumphs, and slip-ups. I plan to write weekly on the blog about our experience, but promise to also continue to offer organic ideas and inspiration. Wish me luck! (and please don’t indulge my family when they whine!)


  1. YAY! I'm with you on this one Cara. Will be eagerly awaiting your posts since I know you discover lots of interesting places.

    Right now, between Apple Valley Dairy and Side by Side Farm I feel like I have most of my food needs met so its some of the extra bits that I have to look for locally.

    Here's my trade-offs - I do not shop in Wal Mart, ever. I haven't used an Exxon station since the Exxon Valdez accident nor BP since the Gulf oil spill. Unfortunately the local gas stations do buy from the big producers but I can make some choices. I also buy gas right now in Maryland not PA.

    Eating in local places is another good thing to do.

    Any thought to setting up a participation log? I'll sign up.
    Susan R.

  2. Just found your blog! We did this a few years ago when we lived in NJ, no living in York, Pa allows for a lot more local shopping. I look forward to reading your blog! As far as shampoo and other hair care items, making your own is a wonderful way to get what you need. I would be glad to share info!