Loving Worcester Action: Buy Local

An improvisational riff on the place attachment behaviors outlined by Melody Warnick in her book, This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live...

The picture on the wall was never quite right.  I loved the dancers in the middle with their bone-bright colored leotards leaping across the elf green canvas but something was wrong.  I hated looking at this expensive print that someone had once given me.  When I carried the heavy artwork into Framed In Tatnuck, Cliff Wilson diagnosed the problem right away.  “It’s the frame!  The wooden frame doesn’t match and it just disturbs the eye.”  Cliff spent almost an hour with me, testing out different frames and colored mats.  He called out his co-worker in the back to solicit her take on the best option.  She had an artistic eye.  He patiently walked me through this process.  I trusted him when he helped me settle on a black frame with a deep green mat.  When I picked up the piece of art a week or so later, Cliff’s face was beaming when I walked into the store.  “You’d never know it was the same masterpiece,” he seemed so proud, pointing to my picture carefully wrapped and leaning against the white wall.  “Magnificent!” I was delighted, “It’s amazing how something like a frame could make all the difference in the world!”

FRAMED In TATNUCK!!  Thanks to Cliff Wilson

FRAMED In TATNUCK!!  Thanks to Cliff Wilson

At Framed in Tatnuck, I got the kind of service and personalized caring that I would never expect from a national chain.  As the former board president of Worcester Local First, Cliff Wilson is used to ticking off the reasons for choosing to go local instead of automatically defaulting to a national big box retailer.  

At Framed in Tatnuck, I got the kind of service and personalized caring that I would never expect from a national chain.  As the former board president of Worcester Local First, Cliff Wilson is used to ticking off the reasons for choosing to go local instead of automatically defaulting to a national big box retailer.  

You will find selection, service and it may sound surprising, but often price is better at the small locally owned shop.
— Cliff Wilson

Dante Comparetto already enlightened us about the power of the economic multiplier effect.  For every dollar that you spend at a locally owned place, a larger percentage circulates within the local economy.  Local producers tend to buy supplies from other local businesses.  Local businesses don’t outsource key components of the work such as accounting to central offices outside of the area.  Local business owners will spend their own income on goods and services within the local economy.  Dante or Cliff may sell a juice or a frame and go next door for a meal, buy a hammer down the street, purchase a bike.  They are keeping dollars circulating in our economy and providing more local jobs.  Consequently, more taxes can be collected to provide our city with better streets, schools, trash collection, etc. All these locally based monetary transactions are good food for our local economy.  Melody Warnick cited the research linking higher local GDP with a high density of locally owned businesses.

But what do local businesses have to do with our loving our city and feeling more place attached?

Reason #1 why buying local creates place attachment- Ease of developing personal connections to local shop keepers.  Dante’s juice shop is just a cover for a community gathering and activist launch pad.  We get to know him and Martha not just as juice makers but people who live here.  Cliff took the time to study my print and really seemed to care about the outcome.  These weak ties are just some of the fibers that help us feel connected to this city.  Warnick mentioned her tendency to gravitate towards the locally owned bookstore, Book People instead of the local Barnes and Noble.  At Book People, the owners got to know her taste in books and looked forward to sharing new titles they thought she would like.  She would never have experienced that type of personal connection down the road at a chain.

At the local dry cleaner up the street, Sharon has been hemming our pants and doing our sewing for years now.  The manager, Andy, didn't want to be photographed but he has an incredible photographic memory.  He knows each customer who walks in the store.  I don't even need a receipt.  He has my dry cleaning all ready as soon as he sees me on the sidewalk about to enter.  This is the "Cheers-Bar" effect, that connected feeling of being in a place where people actually know your name.

At the local dry cleaner up the street, Sharon has been hemming our pants and doing our sewing for years now.  The manager, Andy, didn't want to be photographed but he has an incredible photographic memory.  He knows each customer who walks in the store.  I don't even need a receipt.  He has my dry cleaning all ready as soon as he sees me on the sidewalk about to enter.  This is the "Cheers-Bar" effect, that connected feeling of being in a place where people actually know your name.

Reason #2 why buying local creates place attachment:  Local businesses tend to have pizazz. The cities with the greatest variety of small locally owned businesses tend to be the cities with the greatest personalities.  Who wants to live in Anytown, USA filled with predictable, soothingly consistent and boring national chains?

How can you fall in love with your city if it’s no different from the last five you have been in?
— Melody Warnick

If we know how important shopping locally is to our local economy and our sense of place attachment, why are we automatically drawn to the national chains?  Could we consciously change our own shopping behaviors to favor spending our money at the local place? “Can we get over our love affair of buying cheap and convenient stuff at national chains?” Warnick asks as she declares her desire to detox off of Amazon and Target. Warnick wants to change her common habit of "showrooming", the practice of checking out the local vendor and then returning home to order the product online.  She takes two interesting actions.

#1 Attend a cash mob.  

Have you heard of a flash mob?  Creative organizers have reconfigured this frenzied rush into something potentially positive for some unsuspecting local business.  Through social media, local residents sign up to join a cash mob and don’t hear about the final downtown destination until the day of the event.  There are only three rules: Spend at least $20 at the store.  Meet at least three new people.  Have fun. Melody Warnick joined the buying spree of a cash mob taking place at a skateboard shop in her town.  Seeing nothing she really wanted or needed, she asked herself what she was doing there.  Why is she wasting her precious money?  But she ended up finding a Virginia Tech T-shirt and handed her money over to the smiling, grateful store owner.

#2 Spend $50 at three locally owned stores each month

I’m sorry, Worcester.  I can’t just jump aboard with the whole cashmob concept.  I understand it helps boost a local business.  I understand the party helps highlight the importance of buying locally, but I’m a person who celebrates “Buy Nothing Day” after Thanksgiving and who used to brag right up into my thirties that I could fit everything I owned into a car.  I like to live with little clutter and see life is sweetest when it is lived close to the bone as Henry Thoreau reminded us. 

Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.
— Henry David Thoreau

So, you see, I get the whole cash mob thing. I can’t just stand up and organize buying a whole lot of stuff one might not even need or want.

But here is an idea:

What about deflecting $50 each month to local stores for things you would need to buy anyway?  What about not heading on autopilot up to the Solomon Pond Mall or the Millbury stores or Walmart or Home Depot?

Thanks to my Worcester facebook friends for helping generate this list of locally owned small business options:

  1. For hardware, ditch Home Depot or Lowes and head on over to Barrows Hardware in Webster Square or Elwood Adams, the oldest hardware store in the country on Main Street
  2. For lumber, Howe Lumber in East Brookfield
  3. For sneakers, Sneakerama
  4. For banking, Worcester Five Cents Saving Bank or Commerce Bank
  5. For women's clothing, French Twist Boutique on Pleasant Street
  6. For building supplies and furniture (used), try the ReStore ("They divert tons of stuff from landfills and proceeds go to build local Habitat for Humanity houses. Bargains, recycling and affordable housing all at once - triple win!")
  7. "On the reduce-reuse-rebuild theme, Green Insulation Group on Pullman St. sells recycled and surplus rigid insulation for half the cost of the Lowes and Home Depot."
  8. For specialty food markets, try Ed Hyders Mediterranean Marketplace
  9. For natural foods, Living Earth
  10. For meat, Emerald Meats on Chandler Street or Fairway Beef on Temple Street
  11. For new and used clothing, try Grime Clothing on Shrewsbury Street ("Molly is awesome!)
  12. For books, Annie's Book Stop
  13. For flowers, Perro's on Grafton Street
  14. For appliances, Better Electric on Grafton Street
  15. For furniture and bedding, Rotman's
  16. For kid and adult sport equipment, Wilson Bowling and Sporting Supply on Shrewsbury Street or Kleen 'N Hard Sports
  17. For musical instruments, Union Music
  18. For local produce, Cournoyers In Paxton or Howe's Farm or the farmer markets on Chandler Street and at Crompton Place. ("I would encourage people to access farmers markets sponsored by REC as they accept food stamps and locate themselves where people can't usually access local produce. This year Worcester was identified as the #1 city in the country for making fresh local produce available to a diverse economic market. Support the cause!!!!")
  19. For coffee beans roasted right there, Acoustic Java
  20. For paint, Economy Paint on Chandler Street or Nal's Paint Center near Showcase Cinema
  21. For anything bicycles, Barney's Bicycle on Park Avene and Bikes and Life in Webster Square
  22. For all printing needs, Park Print
  23. For framing needs, Framed in Tatnuck or Prints and the Potter
  24. For outdoor sports equipment, New England Backpacker on East Mountain Street
  25. For art supplies, C.C. Lowell
  26. For a home alarm system, Knight, Incorporated.  

Share more suggestions of your favorite locally owned businesses below!