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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.


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.


Deborah said...

Well written and important to read, regardless of where one lives. You have convinced me to buy local more often than I've done in the past. Thanks.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I totally agree with you and buy locally as much as possible. I hadn't thought about the money spent then circulating round the village - that's another reason now for me to continue buying locally!

I so love the community feel of a village with shops, and if those shops aren't supported, they won't be there. And it's so much nicer to go into a bookshop and chat with the owner about titles and content and have recommendations from someone who knows you about ideas for family presents.

Good luck and may your bookstore do abundantly!

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks for the speedy responses, Deborah and Raph. I wasn't sure what, if anything, to expect, and had a little mild anxiety over speaking my piece like that in public. Glad to have had the desired effect. Raph, since the idea of money continuing to circulate in the village (where you already like to shop) was new to you, maybe you can spread the word and convince others.

Another idea I had: I should do a post asking readers to write in about their favorite local businesses, from bookstores to sports shops. For me it would even be entertaining (maybe helpful) to hear about businesses in places I haven't yet visited, such as Nova Scotia. (Hint, hint!)

Anonymous said...

OK. You have convinced me. (and am feeling twinges of shame for the times I have bought from bookseller in cyberspace...just to save 5 bucks.) But will now think twice and three times and maybe four times before doing so again. Our problem is that we live so far from the bookstores. But that's just an excuse. I agree with everything you said. About buying locally. Thank you for this very thoughtful blog, Pamela.

P. J. Grath said...

Being far from bookstores is at least a good excuse, Kathy. It's not as if you're driving past a bookstore every day and never stopping and ordering online, right? But if your closest bookstore is in a town you get to regularly, I'm sure the proprietor would be happy to see you. And when you publish your novel, won't you want to have that good relationship in place?

Gerry said...

You know you're playing my song--and there's another reason for shopping at local businesses. When you go there, you are an individual, even a neighbor.

The books I've loved best were all suggested by independent booksellers who had a sense of how my mind works. My pharmacist is a real partner with me and my doctor in keeping me healthy. When I go to Sonny's for breakfast or Swedish sausage I get a dollop of soul-satisfying warmth absolutely free.

I won't even go into all the small courtesies extended by local shops or the comment would be longer than the post.

Susan said...

Bravo, Pamela! Your comments are hot and true. Might I ask, though, if it's OK, when traveling, to support other independent bookstores -- or should we delay gratification until we get back to NP to buy from you? (This doesn't require an answer.)

Dawn said... have convinced me. Now I need to FIND an independent bookstore near me! I worked for a big box bookstore last Christmas. Not fun. I'm sure there must be a local bookseller somewhere here...

dmarks said...

Makes me feel all the more guilty for those Amazon links on my blog.

And then there is the reading I do a lot on the Kindle anymore.

If there's any way I can plug Dogears in my posts, let me know...

P. J. Grath said...

Gerry, Susan, Dawn, dmarks: (If I responded to each of you individually, it would make a much longer string of comments on this post, but I'm taking the quick and easy way.)

Gerry, I appreciate your comments about the warmth of doing business with people who know you. I didn't mention that, but it wasn't because I don't think it's true or important. I just wanted to focus on what it means to SUPPORT a local community in a real, tangible, financial way.

Susan, you probably don't require an answer because you already know it: of course, we ALL want to support independent bookstores in other places when we're traveling! The first thing I do in a motel when we travel (well, one of the first things) is to look in the phone book for (a) bookstores and (b) art galleries. A bookseller's holiday is like the "busman's holiday" in the old phrase, except that we change roles and buy instead of sell in the bookstores we visit.

Dawn, I don't know where you live. I do know that some towns don't have bookstores and that some people live far from bookstores. I appreciate your willingness to look for one.

dmarks, I hope you occasionally buy books at Horizon in Traverse City. (It's so convenient to the State Theatre, which I know you love.) You do have "Books in Northport" in your links list, and I appreciate that, too.

Thank you all for responding to this post. It inspires me not to return to, as my mother would say, "suffering in silence"! said...

I agree with you Pamela. However, that woman in Glen Arbor? Not a big fan of hers. She wouldn't carry my book! LOL! Good luck up there.

Book Nerd said...

Moving and eloquent as always, PJ. Honored to have you as a colleague in the independent, locally owned bookstore business.

We're lucky at our brand-new store in Brooklyn that lots of folks are already savvy about the benefits of buying local. But to nudge them a bit more there's also a Shop Brooklyn initiative for the holidays, which we're participating in for the first time -- it's great to be able to do something about the ideals I've held all this time!

And if you need stats to back up your logic and passion, the ABA has gathered a bunch of them here:

Keep fighting the good fight, and good luck from a cohort in arms!

P. J. Grath said...

Joe, I will have to talk to Barbara about EIGHT DOGS NAMED JACK. In general she is very supportive of Michigan writers. Maybe she started to read the title story but didn't read through to the end? It had me worried for a while when I read it in ms., but as you know I love the whole collection. Very original work, so keep it up!

Jessica, thanks for linking arms with me! I will certainly check out those stats and am very happy that you are making your bookstore dream come true in a community that knows how to appreciate your passion. Onward and upward!

Karen said...

Does everyone know that the local bookstore owner would be happy to order anything they want? So if you don't live near a locally-owned store, you could establish a relationship with the nearest one and call up to order things v. doing business with a mega-store.

Pasadena Closet Conservative said...

I came across your post via Throwawayblog.

Money spent by local residents in their local communities keeps people employed and pours money back into the local economy. Sales and property tax also return dividends to in the form of general fund revenues to municipal governments that pay for services such as police and fire protection, park maintenance and much more of those things that contribute to a community's quality of life.

Here in Pasadena, we have the independent bookstore Vroman's, as well as a Borders and a Barnes & Noble.

I have never purchased a book from any merchant except Vroman's.

The woman who turned to you with that sheepish look on her face should think long and hard about the impact that giving her money to corporate internet giants has on your local economy.

I wish you well. Keep up the good work.

P. J. Grath said...

Karen, that's a good reminder about ordering from and establishing a relationship with a local bookseller. People call and ask me if I have such-and-such a title, and when I offer to order it, the response is often, "No, that's all right," etc. I wish my store were big enough to stock at least one copy of everything people are likely to want. As it is, when one person orders something (or when I hear of something that sounds great, e.g., PATIENCE WITH GOD, which I received only yesterday), I often order a copy for stock, hoping someone else will want it, too. But I just can't do that--order on spec==with every title going around, so not having a title becomes not making the sale becomes not being able to order the next.... A vicious circle. I would very much like to be drawn into an ordering vortex instead.

Pasadena, I can't let myself be resentful, because people really DO NOT REALIZE the effect of their buying choices. It's up to me to get my message across. Judging from the responses to this post, I seem to have struck a nerve or hit a chord or however you want to put it. I know the name Vroman's from the old days of AB Bookman's Weekly (pre-Internet). Glad you support them in a tangible, meaningful way and not just with words.

P. J. Grath said...

I need to set the record straight. The original remark that motivated me to write this post was, "You can get it for nine dollars on __________." The speaker assures me that she did not say she had bought the book online and she was sorry to have upset me. I assured her that I was glad the occasion had arisen, as I've been chewing over these matters silently for much too long. So now, beware! I'll be beating the drum loudly and often!

Anonymous said...

It makes sense and cents for everyone living in a small town to buy locally, whether in Michigan or Nova Scotia. So many businesses have closed in my community over the past couple of years. We now have to drive so far to shop. The gas companies are the real winners in that game.

Local people here are notorious for not supporting local businesses. They seem to think that if you can buy it locally, it has less value. However, when I had my art work up for sale in a now closed general store, I was constantly being asked for donations for this or that cause. It is hurtful.

P. J. Grath said...

So, Amy, you know just what I'm talking about. I won't get into recent specific instances of this in my bookstore because I can't afford to focus on the negative. Instead I need to focus on increasing my visibility and continuing to engage in educating the public. Thanks for your input.

Author & Adventurer Loreen Niewenhuis said...


I was just catching up on your older posts and came across your rationale for spending locally. Well done argument, and nice to see a lively discussion in the comments.

The publishing world would be a cold, dreary place without independent bookstores. Anyone who reads has a stake in this battle, (or, as you might appreciate, a 'dog in this fight').

Say 'hello' to Sarah for me!

-Loreen Niewenhuis

P. J. Grath said...

Sarah says hello back, Loreen. She is a lover, not a fighter. I don't particularly relish fights myself. The struggle is particularly difficult since an event yesterday that has taken the heart out of me, but I will live to fight another day. My bookstore is so sweet and special! I wish more of you who have responded to this post lived in Northport!