Holiday Guide 2008: Think global, shop local

Pub date November 19, 2008
WriterTim Redmond

Think global, shop local

It’s so easy to shop online. And it’s easy to go to a big chain store and pick up all your bargains in one place. And in the end, what does it get you?
Not that much.

San Francisco is full of neighborhoods that are full of locally-owned, independent businesses. They’re part of the flavor of the city, part of the reason we all live here. Their taxes pay for libraries and parks and schools. Their owners are active in the community, hiring local people and keeping the streets alive. And they exist only because people shop there.

When you shop locally, you get a lot more. "When you shop online, your money could be going across the Earth," explained Marc Caposino, managing partner of Fresh Public, a marketing firm that has a city contract to promote local shopping. "The character of our neighborhoods is based on local shopping, and if we don’t pay attention to that, we’ll lose it."

You also do a lot to help the economy in this deepening recession. Every dollar you spend in a locally-owned business circulates through the local economy; the local bookstore owner takes the money and spends it at the local shoe store, where the owner spends it at a local restaurant — and all that helps the recovery. If you spend the same dollar at a chain store or shopping online, the profits are whisked out of town instantly.

The numbers are pretty dramatic. Based on an analysis provided by the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, using a formula created by the consulting firm Civic Economics, if every one of the Guardian‘s 593,000 readers spends $100 of their holiday money shopping at a local business, that would inject $99 million into the San Francisco economy. That’s nearly $15 million more dollars than we would see if that money was spent in chain stores.

The Guardian is part of a national shop-local campaign, coordinated through the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. The city of San Francisco has a shop-local effort too, as does Oakland. Many other cities are picking up the theme.

And it’s not as if you have to give up anything. I learned long ago that most local bookstores can offer the same service as If you want a book your local independent store doesn’t carry, the folks there can order it for you and get it just as fast as Amazon can — and you won’t even pay shipping charges. "If you’re looking for something specific, you can probably get it somewhere in San Francisco," Caposino said. It’s worth a few minutes to look.

Tell us how and where you shopped this year and enter to win hundreds of dollars in gift certificates from local businesses! Send email to with subject head SHOP LOCAL STORY CONTEST.

More Holiday Guide 2008.