Why We Fail to Shop Local (and How to Fix That)

I have been living in Delaware, Ohio for close to fifteen years, and only this past Christmas did I realize how much this city has to offer.

I was in the local video game store, Gameplay Unlimited, trying to help David, my fiancé, figure out a Christmas gift for his tech-loving little brother, when I had this revelation. It was occasioned by catching sight of an enormous rack of Super Mario plushies on display in the store. I had honestly never seen so many Super Mario plushies before, nor such variety. They had so many characters, even characters I didn’t think they made plushies of! It was all I could do to keep myself from buying them all, though I did end up getting a Bob-omb for my kid brother. And I remember thinking I always thought that to get this kind of stuff, you had to go on Amazon or eBay or something… But now I know exactly where to buy all my Mario plushies!

Looking back, it may seem a little silly, but it did help me realize something: almost everything I could ever need to buy could be bought here in Delaware, or at least down in the Columbus area. I had no reason to shop on Amazon, and doubly so when I knew I could be supporting small businesses with a lot of those local purchases.

And yes, that may be part of the blessing of living in a relatively large town quite close to a big, lively state capital, though you might be surprised: my relatives live in rather rural Ontario, Canada, and still have similarly local access to quite a lot of things. But I also wondered why don’t we do that? Why is my first instinct always to hop on Amazon and order whatever I need, when I could get it right here?

The answer to this question may seem quite obvious. It’s often cheaper and always easier to shop online. But I think that the biggest factor is that second one: easiness and convenience trumps everything.

It can seem inconvenient to shop locally and in person. You must get out of your chair, out of your house, into your car (unless you can walk to the store, in which case, give it a shot! It would be great for your health and stress levels) and off down the road to wherever it is you need to go. And, obviously, for some people, all of this is not possible, whether they are disabled or elderly or simply don’t have access to reliable transportation. But for those of us who are in decent health and have cars available (or a bike, or what have you) why aren’t we taking more trips to our local shops, getting to know the employees and store owners in our community, and supporting the businesses, large and small, that employ our friends and neighbors?

The answer to this question may also seem obvious: we don’t have enough time! But the truth is, we make time for things that matter to us, and if you love your city, town, or neighborhood, I would highly encourage making time to shop locally. It doesn’t have to be for every purchase. You don’t have to make some huge commitment (though if you want to, it would be a great New Year’s resolution!) And if I’m honest with myself about the time I “save” by shopping online, I often turn right back around and invest that time in more online window shopping or social media scrolling, rather than in doing something useful or actually relaxing.

And lest you think that I’m an absolute Luddite, it is definitely possible to support local businesses online, whether you get the items through shipping, delivery options, or even local pickup. I think that the real issue here is our habits: we habitually run to Amazon or other big box online stores to get whatever we need, rather than taking a minute or two to see if we could get it locally or from a small business. But if we’re conscious about our habits and shopping decisions, we can create new habits of shopping locally first.

And shopping locally first actually does matter; it’s not just a slogan or a hashtag. If you love the businesses in your area, you probably want them to stick around, and if you want them to stick around, prioritizing them over shopping from big online companies is a great place to start. Obviously, there will be some situations in which you need to order something super specific on Amazon or another big company website, like a replacement laptop charger for the one your cat chewed up (ask me how I know). But making an effort to change your habits and prioritize checking local shops first, especially for items like gifts, home decor, clothing, media and entertainment, etc. is going to go a long way in keeping your money invested in your local community, instead of in the pockets of enormous conglomerates.

The internet has ushered in a frictionless age in which we no longer need to spend hours researching in the library, days waiting for a package in the mail, or minutes waiting in the grocery checkout line. And while some of this time saving is a wonderful blessing, it has also pushed us into prioritizing comfort and convenience over much more important things, like connection with our local communities. Gone are the days of shopping on main street, or so it would seem. But we can bring them back if we’re willing to make the effort.

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