Thursday, November 19, 2009
Please Read This!
I’ll try not to go on and on and on and on, but there’s no way I can squeeze this into a pithy paragraph or two, so please be patient. Bear with me. This is important--important to me, yes, but it may be more important to you, too. More important than you realize.
The other day at our local library book discussion group (only my second time attending, but the book under discussion was one I’d urged the group to read, Conrad Richter’s The Trees, which I’m pleased to say they enjoyed so much that they voted to read the rest of the trilogy before spring), someone recommended purchasing a certain book online, from the large online behemoth seller of books and everything else that shall here remain unnamed, because why should I give it free publicity? She had gotten a copy, she said, for only nine dollars. “Sorry!” she said next, turning directly to me and making that half-smiling, half-sad face people use when they say this kind of thing in my presence, which is way more often than I find comfortable. But this time, instead of freezing or burning (or both: a physical freeze followed by a slow burn!), I let the words in my head come right out of my mouth: “Well, those dollars will never come back to Northport, but you can send your money wherever you want.” And then we moved on. I had no desire to embarrass or scold, and I don’t want to scold now or get on a resentful high horse, but I am (finally) realizing that people don’t know why “Buy local” is important, so I need to start speaking up and educating. Because it’s a lot more than the survival of my little bookstore that hangs in the balance.
DON’T STOP READING NOW! STICK WITH ME A LITTLE LONGER!
First, imagine this—and I’ll start with my bookstore because this is my blog and because I’m here at Dog Ears Books in Northport day after day, wondering how to get more local people in the door to buy—imagine that you live in Northport or Omena and you stop by Dog Ears to do a little holiday gift shopping. Let’s say you spend fifty dollars. Where will that money go? A chunk of it, naturally, goes to publishers and book distributors, but another chunk will go to my landlord, who pays property taxes that support our K-12 school. I’ll take a few dollars to the Filling Station to put gas in my tank and to Tom’s Market for groceries: that’s a couple more local businesses that pay property taxes and support our school (and library!), as well as providing local employment.
The beautiful new bookcases in our spacious Waukazoo Street location were made by local craftsperson Mark Voight. Deb and Tom Wetherbee designed the Dog Ears Books website. Bruce Viger of the Eat Spot and Drive-Thru Bar-B-Q made the cookies for our recent book launch reception on March 30. A lot of supplies for the bookstore come from Northport Ace Hardware and Tom’s Market. It’s true I don’t have paid staff, but in my own small and indirect way, when you think about it (which is what I’m asking you to do), I am providing local jobs. So when you spend money at my small business, you’re contributing to the financial health of the entire community, school and library included. The same is true when you buy groceries at Tom’s, gas at Scott’s, paint at Ace, yarn at Dolls and More, etc., etc. One friend tells me that, on average, a dollar spent locally circulates seven times in its local community before leaving. I wouldn’t lay odds on the magic number 7, as population size, commercial health and diversity of businesses must factor in somehow, but--.
--Now imagine a contrasting scenario. Imagine that instead of buying books on Waukazoo Street you order them online from way out by the Pacific Ocean. How many of those dollars sent outside Michigan, do you think, will ever find their way back to our state, let alone to our local community? What percentage of that purchase will support Northport School, the Leelanau Township Library, the Leelanau Foundation, the Northport Area Heritage Association, etc., etc.?
(I usually try to avoid “etc.” but really, do you want to read through long lists? I didn’t think so.)
Local businesses are constantly asked to donate to community causes, and those of us in business are eager to do so. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t love this place. What’s hard for me (and I know it’s hard for other business owners) is to have someone walk in the door, hat in hand, who has never visited before to see what my business is all about. (I often wonder at organizations that don’t vet their volunteer solicitors more carefully. You’d think, especially in a town as small as ours, that groups would want to have people asking for contributions be regular customers of the businesses they’re asked to visit.) And it’s even harder to have to say no when any other answer would be a bad business decision, because the bottom line for me is that my business has to pay its own expenses, buy household groceries, and let me go to the dentist and doctor and take my dog to the vet before it can contribute to nonprofit organizations, however worthy the cause.
There’s a saying, “What goes around, comes around.” It means that, sooner or later, you’ll get whatever it is you dish out, e.g., if you hurt people’s reputations by gossiping about them, you shouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happens to you. The phrase suggests something a little different to me. Doing business in a small town trying to keep a lot of charitable, civic, cultural and educational balls up in the air, I often think, “If it don’t come around, it can’t go around!” I’d rather be a turnip than a stone, but turnips need rain to grow, if you catch my drift.
Well, I woke up early this morning with all this churning around in my head, and then I got a call from a woman who works down in Glen Arbor at Barbara Siepker’s bookshop, the Cottage Bookstore. Seems a group is getting together to produce a bumper sticker about buying locally (“It makes cents”), and they want me, that is, Dog Ears Books, to be the Northport outlet for this one-dollar item. What a coincidence! You bet! My bookstore will be closed January through March--so as not to go in the financial hole; “The trick to a seasonal business is to keep it seasonal,” said my landlord of many years who had operated a lot of seasonal businesses himself—but Jill thought the big push with the bumper stickers would be the first month they’re available, so I told her I’m on board.
Are you on board? Please think about it long and hard.