December 9, 2011 in Business

Consumers coming closer to home

For some, desire to fuel regional economy informs buying choices
By The Spokesman-Review
Christopher Anderson photoBuy this photo

Angie Dierdorff, left, of Sun People Dry Goods Co., helps Julie Schaffer on Wednesday. Juliet Sinisterra of Sun People said, “We get an incredible joy being able to meet face to face with our customers to talk products and lifestyle and build a sense of community that you can’t find online.”
(Full-size photo)

When Spokane resident Rob Higgins thinks of buying a book online, he stops and reconsiders.

“Then I go down to Auntie’s Bookstore and buy it there,” said Higgins, a former Spokane City Council member, now the executive officer of the Spokane Association of Realtors.

Higgins is a member of what anecdotal evidence suggests is a growing group: people who make a conscious decision to buy local.

Eco-friendly consumers and big-box store critics have preached the buy-local theme for several years, but the campaign is gaining more support thanks in part to tough economic times, local business people say.

Kelly McPhee has seen firsthand that spending dollars locally is more than a symbolic act. McPhee is director of communications at AmericanWest Bank in Spokane, where she comes into contact with area businesses struggling to remain afloat in the economic downturn.

“When I saw businesses closing down, it really hit home for me, that the way I vote with my dollar and where I spend dollars translates into someone keeping their job,” she said.

A relative recently suggested buying a gift iPod online; McPhee suggested they go to a Spokane store instead.

She doesn’t try to be fanatical. McPhee realizes not all choices can be made locally, and she still shops online when she can’t find what she’s looking for here.

She’s not alone. The buy-local focus faces a tough battle against online deals, coupons and free shipping, said Patrick Jones, who used to manage a Spokane-based family apparel business.

National market tracker comScore reported that online shoppers spent a record $1.25 billion on “cyber Monday” this year – the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend – up 22 percent from a year ago.

Jones, director of Eastern Washington University’s Community Indicators Initiative, notes that buying local can include both locally owned shops and big-box stores owned elsewhere that have stores in this region. He said he’s a passionate supporter of both kinds of local business.

Locally owned or not, the big-box or retail chain stores keep workers employed here, he said. “And they generate business and occupation taxes and sales taxes” that come back to the state, the county and the city as revenue, he said.

Gavin Cooley, finance director of the city of Spokane, said his perspective on how many – or how few – sales taxes are generated locally has influenced his desire to keep more dollars in the local economy.

“Buying local has become a major focus for me,” he said. He just bought classes at Spokane’s Near East Yoga for two of his daughters.

“But buying local is also pragmatic for me,” he said, noting that Spokane and North Idaho have a wide variety of retail options.

He’s a regular at the downtown Main Market food co-op and home-and-garden retailer Sun People Dry Goods Co.

Cooley said he also buys items at the new Trader Joe’s food market on the South Hill, but he’s inclined to spend more money at local stores.

“I go to Huckleberry’s or the Public Market or to the Main Market to find those food items that Joe’s doesn’t have,” he said.

Lauren Beck, communications manager for Spokane-based Green Cupboards, has also shifted her holiday shopping. She used to take a day and visit a mall to take care of her gift list. Now she looks more carefully to find locally made or locally provided gifts, said Beck, who’s 22.

A young nephew who lives in Everett will be getting a toy dump truck made entirely from used milk jugs. It’s one of thousands of items sold by Green Cupboards, which offers eco-friendly, sustainable products.

Beck knows there’s a contradiction in advocating the buy-local approach while working on promoting products sold across the country through her company’s e-commerce website.

“I support buying local, but I also support finding the best and most eco-friendly products,” said Beck.

“When I can find those products in local stores, I support them. But if I can’t, then I will use those online sites,” she said.

McPhee, at AmericanWest Bank, tries to maintain a realistic view of how much good her local focus is accomplishing.

“It works best to not get caught up in (thinking of how much or how little) you’re doing. I just think you realize that you and others are doing something that can become a powerful change,” she said.

There are seven comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email