Holiday trends naturally mimic cultural ones, so it’s no surprise that “Local” is stepping up this year as the feel good word of the season. ‘Shop local’ is the new ‘low fat’, but without some context, both fads will soon lose their flavor. Like if you’re buying gifts made in China from the store down the street, how helpful is that really? As with most things, the answer depends upon your options. Buying local, as in locally-owned and operated (think Horsnyders vs. CVS) is good for the local economy. When you spend $100 at an independent business ( Horsnyders), $68 returns to the local community, but spend that same amount at a national chain (the drug store across the street) and it drops to $43. And locally-owned businesses reinvest in the local economy at a 60% higher rate than chains and Internet retailers.
All of which is great, but where does that leave the made-in-China question? Annie Leonard explains it best in this short, catchy video. Aside from undermining our chance to keep more of our money in our community, too much cheap, imported stuff is wreaking a hell of a havoc on our already over-taxed environment. So buying local is a good first step, but buying locally-made hikes it up a well-worthwhile notch or two.
Lest this resemble sheer lofty (and costly!) idealism with no real measurable outcome, consider this handy example: O’Neil’s Surf Shop and Costco are 2 local retailers responsible for hefty contributions to both our tax base and workforce solely based on profit. Which one gives back? With the unwavering support from the Santa Cruz community, O’Neill’s has flourished into the local institution that founded the O’Neill Sea Odyssey, the state and nationally award winning program featuring a living classroom on board a 65-foot catamaran where local, underprivileged 4th – 6th grade students receive hands-on lessons to help them understand the relationship between the living sea and the environment while sailing the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. All of which began with community support of a local concept and ended up with a business that recognized and welcomed an opportunity to return the favor.
Retail logistics aside, the holidays are at best an opportunity to reflect and reconnect. It’s hard to watch the year come to a close without remembering loved ones as celebrated in the season of gift giving. And worst case, the frenzy of the season can cause people to wave a gun in line at Walmart in order to defend their black Friday deal. Surely there's a happy medium. I say let’s keep the giving part, but do it in a way that reflects the kind of world we want to live in, one which includes having the space to dispose of the 25 million extra tons of trash we create between Thanksgiving and the New Year – cut it out!
Truly, the seasonal consumption craze is one cultural phenomenon that simply isn’t sustainable. Change has to start somewhere, and thinking through buying decisions is an easy way to begin. Holiday shopping can remain a consumerist extravaganza, or we can use it as an opportunity to support the businesses in our community that really do give back. Luckily, there are lots of creative, unique and fabulous local shopping options here in Santa Cruz, from Farmer’s Markets to artisan Holiday Gift Fairs, without having to have it shipped from China. No more stuff you say? Then get creative and give movie tickets, museum memberships or gift certificates. Our friends at Edible Monterey Bay have put together a fabulous local gift list for even more great ideas. Stay tuned for upcoming Best Places to shop local in Santa Cruz. Until then, shop local!