As I walk around the streets of San Luis Obispo on an almost daily basis, I often think about what I can do to create a more thriving and vital local economy.
Just this month, I was glad to see downtown vitality elevated to a major city goal for the upcoming budget cycle. This led me to notice my own shopping practices and, eventually, to make the choice to be more intentional about shopping in my own community when possible, rather than online.
Our community treasures our downtown and other SLO merchants, so I called on others to join me. We often look at cost and convenience when we shop, but I invite the community to look at shopping through an additional lens as well; what is the balance between the immediate benefits we seek as individuals versus the choices we make that ensure a vibrant community?
Through further discussion, I recognize that my broad statement about “quitting” Amazon doesn’t acknowledge the interconnection and diversity of our economy or the myriad reasons people make their shopping choices. For any frustration or hurt that caused members of our community, and our neighbors who work at Amazon, I apologize.
I appreciate The Tribune and other media for local coverage and for bringing this conversation to the forefront. I want to clarify, however, that I did not use the word “boycott”; that was The Tribune’s word choice. A boycott is meant to be punitive, but my call to shop local is about personal choices, not punishment.
It is more important than ever that media is precise and honest in their quest to portray the facts as they share the stories of our communities. Language matters.
As educator and author Anna Lappe said so well, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”
I want a world in which I can walk into a vibrant and thriving downtown business to connect with shop owners, local residents and visitors. When we shop online, we lose the opportunity to build crucial relationships that make communities strong and resilient. When people are more connected, there is more social glue that holds us together, and civic engagement is an essential outgrowth of this connection.
The financial impact of shopping local should not be ignored. For every $100 spent at a local business, for example, $68 stays in the community compared to $43 spent in national chains. Local sales tax is critical for funding city infrastructure, amenities and public safety.
Finally, shopping locally allows for more direct accountability. There are troubling reports about the business practices of very large retailers, such as poor working conditions, lack of tax accountability and predatory pricing; local merchants, on the other hand, are invested in the success of our region and are committed to serving our community responsibly.
Our local businesses evolve, as they always do in a changing world, and I applaud their ingenuity in creating delightful shopping experiences, offering unique merchandise and providing in-person expertise. And of course, many of our local manufacturers are selling their products online, and I applaud their success in reaching a larger audience.
I look forward to strengthening the relationships between the city and our business community and championing the ways our businesses can succeed here in the face of a rapidly growing online universe.
I’m excited and inspired to shop local, to have my purchases reflect my values and build relationships with owners and customers along the way. I invite you to join me.
Heidi Harmon is mayor of San Luis Obispo.