The holidays conjure up images of family and familiar places, cold weather and warm connections. With a chill in the air and the garlands up, Takoma Park looks ready to celebrate the winter holidays. But the town tends to be a bit of an outlier in the Washington area, and not only because we celebrate the Winter Solstice with the Foggy Bottom Morris Men dancing at the Gazebo. People here make choices to be here, for tangible and intangible reasons, drawn by the elusive quality of this community.
Quality of life questions may seem like a luxury in tough economic times. But turned around, quality of life answers are what allow people to live more abundantly and more economically, with a smaller carbon footprint and a larger sense of community.
“Local” is a way of life. Of all the characteristics that make Takoma Park the place of choice for its residents, one essential thread in the fabric of our community is the locally-owned, independent businesses.
Part of the personality of the town is shaped by the spaces offered by businesses that we rely on as part of our experience. Local businesses provide the place for a great deal of the living that goes on here — everything from a child buying his first present for his mom to a teen holding down her first job to romantic dates, coffee with friends, classes, art shows and more.
We meet friends in local cafés where the barista may start on your order when she sees you walk through the door. We rely on familiar staff to suggest the right gift for the hard-to-satisfy relative. We treasure the art and music by local artists that help define Takoma Park and with which we can share the flavor of our place.
Shopping locally has become a rallying cry for people trying to stand against the economic storm sweeping over the landscape. But for many folks, who find the prices of big box stores alluring, there is some confusion over why supporting local business matters. The answer is that local business is about much more than just shopping. Many of the contributions locally-owned businesses make to the community are hidden, such as donations to school fund-raisers and sponsorship of kids’ sports teams. And many contributions are taken for granted, like allowing the use of their space. But without these businesses’ participation and generosity, the town would lack much of the richness and character that it now has.
When asked why she bothers shopping locally, Emily van Loon, a long-time Takoma Park resident and community advocate, answered the question this way:
I bother because these shop owners in Takoma Park taught my kids how to behave in public, because they knew that I knew the owners. So when they wandered through town, Mark (at Mark’s Kitchen), Jude (at Now and Then), Zoe (at S&A Beads) and Eric (at the Takoma Voice), knew their names and still do. I bother because these shops provide income to people I care about. I bother because the goods in these stores are often made by other small business owners. And I bother because one day I am going to be old and someone will take my keys away from me and I want to have a decent place to shop that I can walk to. That’s why I bother.”
As the American Independent Business Alliance campaign emphasizes, “Give a gift to your community: go local.” Living in an area with shops, concerts, art shows, a farmers market and other amenities within walking distance, as opposed to a car-ride to the mall, allows for not only a nice stroll but serendipitous engagement and independence.
According to the 3/50 Project, a national movement to encourage people to spend $50 a month in three local businesses that they want to see thrive, money spent in local businesses feeds the local economy. For every $100 spent in independently owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home. The 3/50 Project’s December campaign is: Keep the Cheer Here, emphasizing localism and the power of place. (the350project.net).
Supporting local businesses isn’t about competitive shopping. It isn’t about stuff. It’s about investing where we live, recognizing the forces that create and nurture our quality of life, and supporting what we care about. And that is the holiday spirit.
Roz Grigsby is the Executive Director of the Old Takoma Business Association.