Keep ‘one-of-a-kind’ in mind

Local First describes benefits of investing money in county’s independent businesses

Photo courtesy of Scott DW Smith
Customers buy gear in the winter at Pine Needle Mountaineering on Main Avenue in Durango. Enlarge photo

Photo courtesy of Scott DW Smith Customers buy gear in the winter at Pine Needle Mountaineering on Main Avenue in Durango.

You see the familiar cairn in storefront windows, on the stickers around town, and in the popular Be Local coupon book. The cairn is a marker of a locally-owned independent business, reminding you to think local when making a purchase. This is more than a feel good sentiment, it’s a proven strategy to boost economic activity and preserve the character of our community. Researchers over the past decade have taken a close look at how money flows, and what they’ve found shows the profound economic impact of keeping money local – and how the fate of many businesses and communities increasingly depend on it.

At the most basic level, when you buy local more money stays in the community. Countless studies have compared what happens when people buy produce at a supermarket vs. a local farmer’s market or community supported agriculture (CSA) program, and they found that twice the money stayed in the community when folks bought locally. When money stays in the community, it recirculates throughout the community, keeping the local economy alive.

Many local economies are languishing not because too little cash comes in, but as a result of what happens to that money once it’s here. Money is like blood. It needs to keep moving around to keep the economy going. When money is spent elsewhere—at big box stores, non-locally owned utilities or on-line it flows out, like a wound.

While economics is the most important reasons to support local, Local First has a few more that are just as important:

X Keep money in the community. Compared to chain stores, locally owned businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue back into the local economy, enriching the whole community. For every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $73 goes back into the community –and our tax base. For every $100 spent at a chain store, only $43 comes back*

X Embrace what makes us different. Where we shop, where we eat and hang out – all of it makes our neighborhood home. In an increasingly homogenized world, communities that preserve their one of a kind businesses, and distinct character have an economic advantage. If we wanted to live somewhere that looked like everywhere else, we wouldn’t be living in La Plata County.

X Get better service. Local businesses often hire people who have a better understanding of the products they’re selling, and take more time to get to know customers.

X Buy what you want, not what someone wants you to buy. A marketplace of small businesses means low prices over the long-term. Small businesses, choosing products based on what their customers love and need.

X Create more good jobs. Locally owned businesses create more jobs locally, offer greater loyalty to their employees and most sectors provide better wages and benefits.

X Help out the environment. Local stores help to sustain vibrant, compact walkable town centers – which in turn are essential to reducing sprawl, automobile use, habitat loss and air and water pollution.

X Support community groups. Nonprofits receive an average 350% more support from local business owners than they do from non-locally owned businesses.

X Invest in the community. Locally owned businesses build strong communities by sustaining our historic town centers and linking neighbors. Local businesses are owned by people who live here, work here, and are more invested in our future, because they directly feel the impact of our decisions.

X Put your taxes to good use. Local businesses need comparatively less infrastructure investment and make more efficient use of public services as compared to nationally owned stores entering the community.

Show the country we believe in La Plata County. Individuals are more likely to invest in, or move to communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind businesses and unique attitude.

For more information on Local First, visit

Sources: the economic impact of locally owned businesses vs. chains: a case study in midcoast Maine, the institute for local Self-reliance and friends of midcoast Maine, September 2003; and economic impact analysis: a case study, civic economics, December 2002.

LeeAnn Vallejos is the managing director of Local First.