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Column: Shopping local businesses investment in community

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The great shopping season is upon us. First, Halloween; now, Christmas. Americans tell us much about what they value, in time and money, as they hand over their cash, checks, debit and credit cards.

Expensive toys for your grandchildren and cheap trinkets for their parents (your children) tell us who is important and who is an afterthought. If you spend money on a holiday cruise for yourself while people in your community go hungry or without proper clothes against the cold, we see what you think is important.

Beyond what you buy is where you buy. Money spent locally helps your community. Money spent in another town (in person or online) helps that other place.

When you buy from a local merchant, you help employment in your town. Jobs in town increase the likelihood of people living in town or nearby. That helps sustain property values. More residents mean our schools don’t face the agony of declining enrollment. More income for local residents means a broader base for supporting both public and private services.

The pay of people working locally is usually spent locally, which supports other businesses in town. This means survival for those firms and increased choice for you as a consumer.

The more choice we have, the greater our chances of living well. Want to go out to lunch or for an anniversary dinner? You want to have choices among many good places. You don’t want to settle for the same place every time just because there is no suitable alternative.

Not everything is available locally. Sometimes we must travel to find specialty goods and services. Not every town can or wants to support an Armenian, Thai or French restaurant. But if your town does not support what it has, new businesses offering more choices are unlikely to open. No entrepreneur wants to risk investing in a place where competitors are just barely hanging on.

Improved roads make it possible for us to range far and wide in our shopping. For some of us this is recreation. We go off somewhere to shop because it takes us from our everyday world into a different environment. It’s fun. But what does it do for our choices tomorrow?

Buying from a catalog or online via the Internet is easy. The choices are great, and the goods come right to our doors. But what does it do for our neighbors?

Often goods will cost less in a bigger town because the merchants there are able to get deeper discounts by buying in greater quantities. You have a choice. Spend time and money traveling to save money on your purchases, or buy locally and invest in your hometown.

None of this says you should buy inferior goods or support inferior services just because they are local. You do no good for yourself, other consumers or the seller by encouraging poor quality. Local sellers have a responsibility to offer the best quality goods and services they can. That is their investment, not only in their businesses, but in their community as well.

Thus, this shopping season when you buy locally, you will make an investment in your community and in your own future. Your purchases are not just for the items you take home. They include a commitment to the place you call home, to the prosperity of that place, to your neighbors and to the choices you will enjoy in the future.

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

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