Thanksgiving and the holidays provide an opportunity to consider how we can give back to our communities, and one of the ways people often choose to give back is to use their dollars as votes. Every dollar spent at a local business is magnified, making a considerable difference in the lives of neighbors and the general community. Everyone knows that buying local is important; it helps support and strengthen the community we call home, but often, we forget to look at the ways in which local businesses give back in return.
Community Independent Business Alliance co-president and owner of Blue Dawg Promotions, Steve George, explained that many local business owners directly participate in shaping Corvallis’ community by volunteering their own time. George volunteers at his daughter’s elementary school and his son’s high school because he cares about the community.
“Many of them volunteer. You’re committed to the community. You live here, you work here, and you want to see everyone succeed. Everyone’s interests are different. I make donations to ABC House and if local businesses are successful, that just spills over into the community by giving finances and time,” George explained, as he described many of the local business owners.
Along with giving their already-precious time, many businesses offer discounts to various groups. These discounts cut into profit, but they also support locals. From teacher discounts to food for low-income residents, local businesses bolster up the entire community.
Cindee Lolick, the General Manager of the First Alternative Co-Op, described the co-op’s low-income discount, explaining that “all people need to do is show their Oregon Trail card, and they get a discount on everything in the store, even sale items.”
Many businesses also give their merchandise to local events or groups. Country Vitamins gives gift baskets to dozens of events each month. The co-op hosts a SAGE garden concert with 75 percent of proceeds going to the Corvallis Environmental Center, as well as runs the Fall Fest food booth for the Sustainability Coalition.
Similar examples can be given by almost any local business; Corvallis has the fortune of a thriving community with plenty of local groups and nonprofits that host regular events, but those events often require funding, and that funding often comes from fundraisers that depend on surrounding businesses.
“The nursery gives plants to Master Gardeners through the OSU extension,” shared Andrea Shonnard, of Shonnard’s Nursery, Florist, and Landscape. “They get first pick of all the plants that are not sellable but still viable, then they can resell those plants at their plant sale. We also get hundreds of donation requests, and we try to donate as much as possible to local initiatives like the Native Plant Society, among others.”
Local businesses also give back time and expertise. Being able to get questions answered, or in the case of the holidays, finding the perfect gift is a much easier task thanks to educated, local business owners.
As Pat Sardell from Country Vitamins stated, “We strive to be well-informed about the products we sell. We are product specialists.”
This sentiment echoes throughout all local business owners who send their staff to trainings, invite specialists to their store to network and educate one another, and also take extra time to answer and educate their customers.
Sardell noted that she brings naturopathic physicians into the store for a 30 minute, “extraordinary conversation” where customers can drop in and participate in a Q&A with local physicians. Likewise, Shonnard noted that she regularly encourages her staff to pursue workshops and other educational opportunities to become more knowledgeable to better help customers.
According to the American Independent Business Alliance – and multiple studies – buying local is one of the best community investments that consumers can make. Compared to big businesses, local businesses donate more than twice as much per sales dollar back to the community, and they also encourage more sustainable practices.
Buying local reduces the amount of shipped packages, lessening wear on roads and other public systems, which results in fewer tax dollars spent on infrastructure, freeing up funding for other areas.
Likewise, supporting local businesses encourages more jobs, resulting in more people contributing to the economy, and more people with a vested interest in their community. When people are tied to a place and care about neighbors, customers, and businesses, it often results in more involvement in local government and a better democratic process.
To gauge where Corvallis is – and should be headed – the City of Corvallis started a committee to produce a community vision they called, Imagine Corvallis 2040. Some of its goals, created by local residents and outlined on the City of Corvallis website, include sustainability, a “robust and diversified economy supporting good jobs,” and an “identity centered on arts, culture, recreation, and celebration.” Many of Imagine Corvallis’ goals directly tie to supporting local businesses.
Corvallis’ local businesses create a unique culture that you won’t find anywhere else. If we want to hold onto that culture, and to our spectacular, local business owners who continue to donate their time and goods, we need to buy locally and encourage others to do the same.
Let’s help local businesses who need local support. Do your part by participating in Buy Local First week starting Saturday, December 2, and buy heartfelt and meaningful holiday gifts through local vendors instead of corporate chains.
As Lolick states, “Part of our mission, and one of the principles we are founded on, is to help those in need.”
Buy Local week is December 2 to 9. Many local businesses will have goodies, treats, and prizes available for shoppers. For more information about how buying local impacts the community, go to corvallisiba.org or amiba.net.
By Kristen Edge