Why You Need To Support Independent Businesses

Cross-post from Medium.

Today is about shopping local.

I chose this topic from a Twitter thread that was posted a few weeks ago and that I responded to at the time.

That first tweet:

Today a customer mentioned that she could get a new hardcover book online for $15. Our mission is not to shame anyone for their shopping practices, but we do feel a responsibility to educate about what it means when a new hardcover is available for $15 online.

What follows:

When we order direct from publishers, we get a wholesale discount of 46% off the cover price. The book in question had a cover price of $26.99, meaning our cost for that book from the publishers would be $14.57. If we sold it for $15, we’d make . . . 43 cents.

It goes without saying, but we cannot operate making 43 cents per book sold. We have 10,000 books in stock. If we sold every one of them with a 43 cent markup, we’d make enough to keep the store open for about six days.

Read the entire thread.

Here was my response, edited slightly, then with more context below it to make a full Medium article:

As the partner of a restaurant owner/caterer who uses thoughtfully sourced ingredients, I get it. Do you want fast food prices? Eat fast food. Quality ingredients cost money. And for delivery, we sometimes lose money because of packaging costs. Our markup is what it needs to be.

We are a family-owned restaurant, and we support other family-owned companies. Our restaurant meat comes from small family farms. Our ingredients are locally sourced when possible. (Obviously, we can’t source local spices, but we can certainly source local vegetables when they’re in season.)


Support small businesses!

When we order direct from publishers, we get a wholesale discount of 46% off the cover price. The book in question had a cover price of $26.99, meaning our cost for that book from the publishers would be $14.57. If we sold it for $15, we’d make . . . 43 cents.

Most people don’t consider this or are unaware of it. You don’t know what you don’t know. I get that.

I DO order books and other products from Amazon, but I also support local bookstores and libraries. I recently discovered that a local Ethiopian coffee shop sells whole bean coffee. With the rise of environmentally offensive “pods” it’s been hard to find whole beans, and so I’d been buying them at Costco. There’s nothing wrong with Costco, but it’s not always convenient to go there. I was SO happy to find beans at a small business in my neighbourhood. Now we buy from Costco AND local. It’s win-win for that coffee shop and my household of two.

As a member of my (partner’s) business BIA (Business Improvement Area) — with my partner on the board and me on a committee — I’m especially mindful about supporting small businesses.

Consider family business

To take this on another tangent: When I hear about vegan protesters interrupting the activity of other restaurants or family farms (not corporate-run, factory farms), I think, “The targets of these protesters are people trying to make money for their families.”

Those family farms depend on restaurants such as ours, and we rely on them. To interrupt their livelihood because their business involves killing animals for food is to say that animals’ lives matter more than our own welfare, when in fact those animals are nourishing us and helping sustain our health and our bank accounts, allowing us to pay our rent and other bills.

The farming industry has become harder to sustain. It’s hard to make money as a farmer as it is. So many farmers now have “regular jobs” in addition to their farm jobs. It might be one member of a couple who needs to “get a job” or both. Imagine being up early to take care of farm duties, then commuting to work in an office.

Conveniently, technology now provides people with the opportunity to avoid that commute and work from home. I know a couple of farmers who do that.

Some farmers don’t have those other skills. They only know how to be farmers. That’s their career. How are they supposed to sustain themselves? It’s not as simple as switching from being chicken farmers to being corn farmers. The skillsets are different. A surgeon can’t suddenly become a dentist.

Mix up your shopping locations

Closer to home, I don’t want to say that online shopping or big box stores have killed small businesses. I don’t believe they have. I think there’s room for both. I shop at Costco and Walmart without feeling shame about it. However, I think that people should mix it up. Support your local business as much as possible. Buy online or at big box stores when necessary.

Visit the supermarket and the farmers’ market. Don’t be manipulated by lower prices. Know what items are worth at the end of the day and remember that you often get what you pay for. Recognize what people are worth. Consider that business owners tend to have rent to pay, insurance costs, and staff to compensate. Back to the farming example, many farmers have employees too, along with veterinarians, feed, machinery and other associated costs.

It costs money to keep the lights on.

If you can’t buy that book locally, buy it from Amazon. If you do have a local independent bookshop and you can’t find a specific item there, you can ask the bookstore representative if they can get that book for you before you hit up the online seller. On more than one occasion when I was shopping for nutritional supplements, the owners of health food stores offered to order what I needed.

Consider booksellers who are on Amazon. Some bookstores — and other merchants — sell through Amazon.

Libraries especially need your support

Support your local libraries too. They need it. If you don’t have a branch near you or prefer to read ebooks or audiobooks, you can still borrow those from a library. Start with the OverDrive or Libby apps. In borrowing from the library, you can support your local authors. Check out this Reddit thread to find out how this works.

Get outside

However, please don’t let inertia or laziness keep you home when you could go out and get what you need. Please support your local restaurant in person, rather than ordering in, because ordering in costs more for both you and the restaurant. Consider restaurants that employ their own delivery drivers — like the old school pizza delivery guys — rather than using a third-party app such as Uber Eats.

Visit your local butcher, baker, candlestick maker, etc.

You’ll be helping yourself and your local economy.