I got into one of those conversations today.
You know the ones.
Yup. The kind where you’re with one of your extroverted friends, and you have no idea on this earth where the third person came from or why you are talking to them. They’re just sorta there because you’re out walking with (well, what do you get when you cross the cutest baby in the world with a Labrador retriever?)
Oh, yes. That’s right. An infestation of strangers.
This particular conversation started with the number of businesses that are closing (all of them), and the whole “Buy local” thing.
And as an extrovert, new person announced that “our mayor” has been really pushing the buy local thing.
And as you might guess from some of my previous posts, it’s working. We’ve opened three empty store fronts and a new vacant lot in the past couple of months alone.
I told her I was buying groceries on the internet.
She told me she likes to squeeze her fruit.
(Yes. Yes, she did.)
So, let’s talk about those empty store fronts, shall we? The question I keep hearing is how we get people to buy local.
As if that’s a marvelous option. And you know, I do have options. Should I squeeze my fruit at Empty-store mart, boarded-up world, or Vacant-Express? Don’t get me wrong. There are grocery stores locally, but they’re not locally owned or anything. They’re gateways to non-growth. Work there so you can buy there so you can work there. There’s a larger version, involving more of the town, but that’s it. An endless cycle of stasis.
And when those storefronts were open? Well, it wasn’t the greatest selection. In fact, the best bookstore in town when I was a kid was the remainders bin at Pamida.
I just don’t see the good ol’ days looking backward.
Here’s the thing. I have access to more because of the internet. Not just more choices (although the fact that I can order a case of random weird delivered to my door doesn’t exactly make me sad.) but more people. More potential customers. A business in my small town–thank you, sweet baby Tim Berners-Lee– has access to millions of potential customers, and not just the handful that are here, and the opportunity to sell to niche audiences that simply weren’t unified enough to have purchasing power until recently.
I don’t have to buy the remainders bin books, if what I really want is a book in Spanish or French, or Classical Assyrian.
And I don’t have to figure out what will sell to a geographically limited market of a few thousand people.
Indie publishing runs on that principle. There are enough people who read Sasquatch porn that if you just figure out how to reach them, you can earn a living. Or… you know… whatever your niche is.
Small, independent art galleries… I don’t have to take the art to New York. I bring New York to the art. Or… I bring the internet connected world to the art.
I can stream videos directly to my home that my local Blockbuster wouldn’t have dreamed of stocking. Wanna binge watch Korean romances with me? No problem. They come to my living room these days.
Wanna have a writers’ group that specializes in people who are actually writing novels? Yeah. That’s on the internet, too.
And frankly, I don’t see it as being a contradiction. Small towns are worth revitalizing. They’re good places to live, and they’re worth saving.
But the question isn’t how you get people to “buy local.”
It’s how do you help local businesses to sell global.