Mayor Jill Swain issued a proclamation at last week’s town board meeting celebrating local small businesses and declaring Nov. 28 as “Small Business Saturday” in Huntersville. What is Small Business Saturday you ask? Small Business Saturday or “shop small” Saturday is not unique to Huntersville. It is a national marketing ploy developed in 2010 by noted “small business” American Express that takes place on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday and encourages shopping at local rather than chain businesses.
How can anyone not embrace an effort promoting local businesses you may also ask? Because ideas matter and ideas shape public policy. Buy local or buy anywhere you want this holiday shopping season, just don’t celebrate Small Business Saturday under false pretenses.
I should clearly state that local entrepreneurs should be encouraged, and successful local business models should be recognized. Patronizing a local business over a chain has many advantages: the personal connections established, unique inventory and often a higher level of customer service.
But I consider myself pro-market, not pro-business, and I do not think it is a proper function of local government to promote certain businesses over others. Huntersville should instead focus on creating an economic and regulatory environment conducive to the success of its many businesses no matter where their corporate headquarters are located.
Small Business Saturday proponents frequently tout statistics that shopping local versus at a chain allows more money to stay in the local economy, that it creates more economic activity and jobs, and that it also promotes “sustainability” and a cleaner environment.
These claims are difficult to quantify and usually go unchallenged. A commonly cited statistic you’ll likely see repeated on social media this weekend is that 68 cents out of every dollar spent at a small business stays in the local economy versus only 43 cents of every dollar spent at a chain. The basis of this claim is a single study done in 2004 by a group named Civic Economics based on research in a single neighborhood on the north side of Chicago.
Nevertheless, buy local advocates still cite this statistic as fact in communities nationwide. The Town of Davidson prominently displays this 68 versus 43 cents figure on their website in support of their buy-local effort as if it is specific to Davidson.
When I requested the source of such information from Davidson’s Economic Development Manager Kim Fleming I was provided a document citing anti-capitalist groups like Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance whose primary goals, respectively, are displacing our current economy and attacking Walmart and Amazon.com.
When Davidson and other municipalities promote the work of these anti-capitalist groups, their goals of returning us all to a subsistence economy are only given credibility.
Here are some questions you can pose to Small Business Saturday supporters on social media and elsewhere if you’re inclined to challenge the premise of buying local:
How do you define local?
How can you be certain your dollars spent at a local business remain local?
Don’t national brands in Huntersville like Walmart, Target, and chain restaurants employ hundreds of local residents? And won’t they lose their jobs if we all abstain from shopping there?
Does a Huntersville resident care less about local business if they choose to patronize Concord Mills Mall this holiday season instead of trying to meet all of their shopping needs in Huntersville?
If Huntersville wants to convey a consistent message to the entire business community and really help local entrepreneurs, we should stop using taxpayer money to promote the mutually exclusive goals of attracting and keeping large businesses like ABB and Burkert and also encouraging buy-local initiatives. If you choose to shop local this holiday season, do so based on your specific values and financial situation, not because of any feelings of shame or guilt or because of misleading statistics. q
Eric Rowell is interested in meaningful ideas. He lives with his family in Huntersville. Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ericwrowell on Twitter.