Local Independent Businesses: Why Should We Care?

Shop Locally-Owned – It’s Good For You

If you’re like me, and you’ve ever marveled at the multi-hued array of locally owned shopping and dining choices that accompany a walk down Main Street in Dunedin or Safety Harbor, FL or places like Austin, TX, Burlington, VT, or Bellingham, WA, for that matter, then you have at least the beginnings of an appreciation for locally-owned, independent businesses. But while many of us can attest to the unique variety that local independents offer their respective communities, a slightly deeper look at the real economic effects that locally-owned businesses have on their surroundings can provide some real insight into their true value.

Building on its earlier studies of the impacts of local businesses in Austin, Chicago, and San Francisco, in 2008 the group Civic Economics conducted a study that focused on the Grand Rapids, MI metro area. The study found that if Grand Rapids residents were to shift just 10% of their yearly spending to locally-owned independent businesses, the resulting economic effect would generate over 1600 local jobs and put over $137 million back into the local economy. The population of the area of Kent County, MI that was covered by the study was about 770,000 at the time.

local1Photo Cred: The Ale and the Witch

Let’s stop here for a second. Many of you probably read the above statement about Grand Rapids, like I did at first, and thought, “There is no way that I can afford to spend an extra 10% every year just to support the local economy!” But, very importantly, you may notice that the study didn’t imply that residents spend an extra 10% but instead simply shift 10% of what they already spend from non-local chains to local independents.

Now, if I may, let me throw a few more numbers at you…The population of Pinellas County, FL, where our Happy Feet Plus company began 29 years ago and continues to be based today, was roughly 921,000 in 2012. If we apply the findings of the Grand Rapids study to our home here in Pinellas County, a 10% shift in spending to local businesses by the residents of our county could mean the creation of over 1900 local jobs and an influx of over $163 million into the local economy.

local2Photo cred: Bodhi Basics

If we move beyond Pinellas County and apply the Grand Rapids numbers to the entire Tampa Bay area, the result is nothing short of staggering. With its population of roughly 2.8 million, the Tampa Bay metro area could see over 5800 local jobs created and an influx of nearly $500 million into the local economy from a simple 10% shift to local spending by its residents.

But how does this happen? How does a shift to more local spending really generate more money in the local economy? The answer is simple. Dozens of local, regional, and state-level business studies conducted around the country over the past ten years have shown that, on average, for every $100 spent at a non-local chain, about $43 stays in the local economy, while for every $100 spent at a locally-owned, independent business, about $73 stays in the local economy.

local4Photo Cred: The Smokin’ Rib Shack

The definition of “local” can vary based on the size and scope of the municipality in question, but most of the independent business organizations around the country define a “local” business as the following:

1)      A business that has its headquarters within the given local area and

2)      A business whose owners and employees reside in the given local area.

The Grand Rapids survey, notably, did not include publicly held firms whose headquarters were in the Grand Rapids area.  In many cases, the shareholders of publicly held firms live in other cities, states, or even other countries, thus making it less likely for them to directly contribute to the local economies where their businesses are headquartered.

While there are obvious economic benefits to buying local, many other benefits exist as well. Those additional benefits include things like the tendency of local businesses to offer more diversity of selection and their tendency to put less strain on local infrastructure and ecosystems.

local6Photo Cred: Spongeorama Sponge Factory

So, why do we care so much about local, independent businesses at Happy Feet Plus? Well, quite simply, we are, and always have been one.

If you’ve been on the “about us” page on our website at happyfeet.com, you may already know that our business started with a little kiosk in Tyrone Square Mall in St. Pete in 1985, and that we continue to run our business under the same ownership and just 20 minutes up the road from Tyrone Square in Largo, FL today. In keeping with another typical trait of local independents, our owners are quite easily accessible, as their desks sit exactly 50 feet from where I am typing this in our corporate offices. Our stores are all located within about an hour of the Tampa Bay area, and every year we participate in many community-based activities from fun runs to health benefit galas to the St. Pete Pride Parade.

happyTerry Ballard, Happy Feet Plus St. Petersburg

In 2004, our Clearwater store, with its solar panels, native plants, and cistern for collecting water for irrigation and sewer use, became the first retail space in the country to receive LEED Gold Certification.  LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a nationally recognized building program administered by the U.S. Green Building Council that recognizes achievements and innovation in eco-friendly architecture.  All of these things, from location and accessibility to community involvement to Green store designs, we hope, contribute in some way to richer choices and richer lives for our employees, our customers, and our community.

And finally, if you’re one of our many online customers, and you’re reading this from, say, North Platte, Nebraska and wondering why if I am arguing in favor of local businesses you should care about a small footwear company from Largo, Florida, please remember that at some point you’re fairly likely to be one of the 84 million visitors that Florida receives each year. When that day comes, rest assured that this local independent, like thousands of others in our area, is doing what it can to make its corner of the Sunshine State a little brighter.

-Matt LeBarge

%d bloggers like this: