New Orleans is an example of both independence and indifference. While we as a community embrace our unique brands, businesses and beaucoup quirks, perks and ways of life, we are steady giving it up to the “Man” by way of corporate contracts, commodities and consumerism, even carelessness. Next time you go into The Quarter, take a closer look at who owns what and how repetitive the storefronts are becoming. Then realize that those same or similar business logos could soon start appearing along St. Claude, Freret, Magazine and Oak Street. Right now we are so ahead of other cities when it comes to individually owned, one-of-a-kind restaurants and retail shops—but it’s a case of use it or lose it. Go eat at a MacMundane or shop mall-style and you have invested in AnyWhateverWhereever and thus subtracted from our “Only in New Orleans” way of life and the businesses that nurture our uniqueness.
Studies and research overwhelmingly point to the same conclusion: locally-owned and supported businesses improve a city’s economy, environment and entertainment. In a town like ours, investment of money and loyalty to our musicians, artists, writers, culture-bearers (Mardi Gras Indians, second liners, Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs) put us at the top of travel and tourist destinations. A loyal fan base for our sports, from the Saints to the Crescent City Classic, infuse our economy with much-needed revenue. And, more importantly, we benefit as a community when we come together as fans. Aside from the certain knowledge that our lucky jersey or game-day ritual has the power to make a “win” for our team, we are together with a common goal, a shared enthusiasm. Even our crime takes a break for a crucial Saints’ game. And as for those homegrown festivals we are famous for—the money spent at those festivals keeps our musicians and food vendors, artists and craftsmen employed while playing ambassadors for this city of ours. Support for all things local is a win/win on every level.
Small businesses are the largest employers nationally. When a Big Box store (think: you-know-who) moves into a community, more jobs are lost than gained. When land and existing buildings are repurposed for a chain store, this is good—no trees are removed and the restored building is put into commerce rather than into landfill. So, yes, a national chain can mitigate its negative impact in these and many more ways – however, why can’t we support the already existing businesses, the locally-owned and independent stores? Because we want so damn much stuff. Yeah, ya right! I too am guilty of this. So, how about a compromise?
New Orleans is an example of both independence and indifference.
We can limit our shopping at the Amazons, Wal-Marts and Winn-Dixies and spread our disposable money about with a bit more consideration. No disposable money, no extra mad green to play with? I feel you. So, figure your grocery budget (limited as it may be) ahead of time before driving into the parking lot of that big chain store you’ve grown accustomed to. Shave off 10, even 20 percent, from that retail stop and afterwards find your nearby grocer, Terranova’s for example, and buy at least that percentage of your groceries there. Small independents may not have big bargains on all items but they certainly offer great deals on some. The two family-owned grocery stores that I frequent are quick to fill personal requests—they want my business and they genuinely care.
When you go out to eat, do you think: I could get this cheaper at home? Sure you could, but that meal is served to you with an ambiance that you do not have to clean up afterwards and the social aspects of dining out are unique to that experience. So when someone thinks how they could get it cheaper on Amazon and pass on an independent clothing, book or music store, they are losing out on the personal touch that only a brick ‘n mortar shop can offer. When I go to a local bookstore for that brand new best seller, I get conversation, generally run into a friend or neighbor I haven’t seen in a while, dish the dirt and have an actual social outing. Amazon provides much but they don’t give you a hug when you leave.
We live in a city that relishes its local brand—and still we are constantly adding to the list of (as Benny Grunch would sing) “ain’t dere no more”. You do it, I do it. We all pass that funky museum we had always meant to visit, til we read it is closing…but wait there’s more, now you get (drum roll please) condominiums! What of the corner café, been there forever, gonna eat there one day, hear it’s great…now it’s closed. There’s the hardware store you drive by every day and think how nice it is that a store just like the one you went to as a kid is still around…but do you stop and shop, or drive on to Lowes for your one-stop-buy-it-all-place? Last time you went in Terranova’s the owner handed you a pair of scissors to cut fresh basil from her flower pot outside and she wouldn’t dream of charging you for it. And Canseco’s lets you get that bag of coffee along with your starving cat’s canned Friskies’ even though you forgot your wallet (“Just drop the money off later on your way to work”). Little kindnesses that can make or break your day and yet did you return the favor when you went grocery shopping last week?
Use it or lose it. Every day we are presented with choices and even those seemingly small choices come together to shape our community. Use the power of your wallet. To shop local is to be local.