Grand Rapids Love and the Importance of Shopping Local

I'm a Grand Rapids native.  I've lived here all my life save a brief stint up north.  It has been so great to see this city change and pretty much explode with awesomeness over the last several years.  When I was in high school there wasn't much happening downtown.  There were a few cool spots (shout out to the old Music Expresso and San Chez, which is still as amazing as ever), but for the most part downtown Grand Rapids was a place where people worked but didn't stay and hang out.  Today Grand Rapids is a vibrant city full of art and music and food and festivals and boutiques and breweries and industry.  I am not alone when I say I am proud to be from and to live in Grand Rapids.  I, like many of you, am Grand Rapids-centric.  I love this city! 

You know what is a major player in our city's unique vibe?  Local businesses.  Think about it. 

The shop local movement isn't just cool - it's really important!  It's important for a lot of reasons.  Nearly twice as much money spent at a small business stays in the local economy compared to national chains.  According to the Local First of West Michigan website, "Unlike their national competition, locally owned businesses regularly purchase from other local retailers, manufacturers, service providers, and farms.  Supporting our locally owned businesses is vital in growing a strong West Michigan economy and tax base."  Local business owners also tend to be philanthropic in their communities and help create and fund programs, parks, buildings, schools, museums, non-profits, and so on. 

Independent businesses give our community a unique flavor and make it more interesting.  When you have friends come from out of town and you want to impress them with what Grand Rapids has to offer, chances are you're going to take them to one of our great locally owned restaurants, breweries, or pubs.  Imagine if the only stores, restaurants, and service providers we had were the same old chains found everywhere.  That would be a sad day indeed.  To maintain our city's uniqueness, it is important to support local businesses year-round.

"Shop Local" doesn't have to be your personal mantra to make a difference; shopping or eating at a chain doesn't have to come with a sense of guilt.  Depending on where you live or what your budget is, sometimes shopping locally isn't always the easy choice.  Also, sometimes you just really want a Whopper.  And that's ok.  I'm not going to lie - I don't always shop and eat local.  I consciously choose to frequently, but heck yes I still shop at Target once in a while and there's nothing wrong with that.  It doesn't have to be all or nothing.  It is easy, though, to shop local more often and I strongly encourage you to do so.  If everyone shifted 10-15% of their spending to locally owned businesses, it would make a huge impact.  Here are some easy ways to support local businesses more often:

  • Eat at local restaurants when dining out.  Personally, this was the easiest change when I made a conscious effort to shift my spending.  When friends ask to meet for dinner, I suggest locally owned spots.  Do you have older family members who are stuck in their ways and only go to Applebees and Logan's Roadhouse?  Knock their socks off and take them to a local restaurant.  You could even impress them with your economic smarts and explain to them the financial impact shopping locally has on our economy in West Michigan.  Then bask in the glory of their admiration over tasty, local eats.
  • Quit going to Starbucks so much.  Yes, I know the allure of their pumpkin spice lattes and mocha frappuccinos is strong.  But you know who makes a heck of a cup of coffee?  Madcap and Rowster and Kava House and Bitter End and Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters and Sparrows and Lantern and Common Ground and Ferris and...the list is endless.  If you're a diehard coffee lover and you regularly buy it from chains, shifting to local coffee houses is an easy way to make a big difference in your spending. 
  • Shop local when buying gifts.  Even if you wouldn't normally shop at a boutique or other local specialty store for yourself, it's a great idea when buying for others.  Your chances of impressing your loved one with a unique and special gift increase by 1000% easily.  You'll appear to be more thoughtful while supporting the local economy.  It's a win-win.
  • Get produce from the farmers markets whenever possible and visit craft shows, artisan markets, and fairs.  You can shop local, get some great items, and people watch at the same time. 
  • Do you use social media?  Post about your local finds.  Did you find the muffin to top all muffins at a local bakery?  Take a picture and brag about it's chocolatey goodness to your friends and tell them where you found it.  Did you get the most amazing necklace at a local shop?  Did the local salon give you the best haircut ever?  Tell people!  If you really want to get fancy, use location specific hashtags (like #grandrapids) when posting on Instagram and Twitter.  This is an extremely easy way to maximize the impact of your local spending and encourage others to do the same. 

Shopping local is a great way to celebrate our fantastic city and ensure it's continued development and growth.