Local business is a function of a cohesive community. Through consumer understanding and support a local economy can fully provide for the needs of its community. A small business with an intimate customer base can mold to the fluctuations in demand in ways that large corporate stores cannot. “Big box” stores contort consumer demand to reflect their supply. Whereas small and local businesses are required to be in tune with local needs and desires, changing to fit the demands of their customers. These intertwined dependencies equate local ownership with community ownership.
Consuming goods and services, spending money, is in essence a vote. When a dollar is spent at a corporate retailer the spender has chosen to support a certain method of bringing products to market. When that same dollar is spent at a local business a choice, whether conscious or not, has been made to support the community. The dollar spent at the local store will remain, at least partially, in circulation. In the introduction to Big-Box Swindle, Stacy Mitchell writes that independent retailers take that dollar and use it to “bank at local banks, advertise in local newspapers, carry goods produced by local companies, and hire a range of professionals from accountants to Web designers.” These transactions create a support structure for the community. Each independent business owner has an interest in more than simply the purchasing power of consumers. Business owners are interested in the functioning of local politics, development planning, education and endless other local initiatives. To maintain a thriving independent business, business men and women must foster a community that can support them.
Local economies are increasingly at danger from national and international corporations. Responsive to stockholders and distant boards of directors, these corporations create an economic system based solely on profit, therefore discounting the local community. Increasingly, independent business owners and individuals realizing the economic shortfalls of “big-box” development, have banded together to protect and promote local and independent business.
Stacy Mitchell has been an instrumental voice in the drive to return local economies to communities jeopardized by corporate development strategies. Her book Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses, shows that there is hope for economies diminished by “mega-retailers.” She is a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), which, every year since its founding, has studied the feasibility of communities generating a significant amount of wealth from local resources and has worked with the increasing numbers of communities interested in moving in that direction. As part of the Institute a New Rules Project was created, with a focus on creating rules that build community by “supporting humanly scaled politics and economics.” Mitchell has worked with local communities to create the “Hometown Advantage,” a resource guide for communities looking to protect themselves from excessive retail development.
Stacy Mitchell has enabled numerous communities to determine the future of their economic development. Through her work with ILSR and her writings she has illuminated the importance of a thriving local economy for community sustainability.
The Schumacher Center will be hosting Ms. Mitchell along with Richard Heinberg and Will Raap as a part of the 26th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures Series. This event will be held on October 28, 2006, at the First Congregational Church in Stockbridge, MA.