Importance of ‘voting local’


Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.

While I’m as thrilled as anyone that political advertisements are over, we now find ourselves in the midst of another election season: holiday shopping season. But this time around, we’re voting with our dollars.

Compare this election season to the last one. Votes are generated by how effectively a given candidate argues to be best for you.

Money equals votes; replace the word candidate with products and what’s best for you with the lowest prices. And much like our current political system, retail competition is skewed in favor of those with the most economic resources.

The enormity of Black Friday promotion and participation enables corporate retailers to cut prices by huge percentages because their volume of sales ensures a high profit.

How can a small business compete — lacking in national platform and nowhere near the same potential sales volume? They can’t. Opening their doors for more than 24 hours on a holiday and selling at huge price cuts will result in a financial loss.

I’ve grown up in Schuler Books. Since I was born, my mother was the general manager until she became the lead book buyer a few years ago.

I used to think the coolest part of my mom’s job was my easy access to books, magazines and even toys. But Schuler’s truly has enriched my childhood in ways beyond feeding my intellectual curiosities.

As a kindergartner, I was beyond pumped to have my first published work featured in a young authors display in the kids section. In middle school, my choir performed a holiday concert by the fireplace in the travel section. Every holiday season since sophomore year of high school, I rally all my friends to help with the complimentary gift-wrapping Schuler’s offers.

And it’s not just me who benefits from the presence of Schuler’s in my community.

On site, there’s a drop box for people to donate old books to the Capital Area Literacy Coalition. The local NPR station has hosted various chats in the Chapbook Café about classical music. On a display table, the books being read by local book clubs can be found at discounted prices, and hundreds of kids participate in each summer reading program.

These types of things don’t take place at Target or Amazon.

Why does this matter? Because when we vote with our dollars for our local businesses, we’re investing in our communities, and in more than charitable or intellectual ways.

All Schuler Books’ printing needs — shopping bags, newsletters, coupons, flyers — are done by local businesses. The coffee served in the café comes from a local supplier.

When local businesses need construction done, marketing services, electricians or plumbers, they hire from their own community.

We’re paying the wages of our neighbors, who put their earnings back into this community.

We want to point fingers and blame Republicans or Democrats for the stalled economic growth following the recession, but we need to point another back at ourselves.

Capitalism and democracy are intensely correlated in this country. Every time we spend money at a massive corporate chain or an online-only retailer, we’re voting for more of that.

We’re saying as a society, “This is what we like. This is what we want more of.” And yes, who doesn’t like lower prices? But the reality is the ultralow prices and hyperconvenience come with a different kind of price tag.

This upcoming year, the Michigan Department of Treasury estimates the state will lose $242 million in tax revenue to online sales because online retailers aren’t required to collect sales tax for a state they don’t have a physical presence in.

Small businesses are the biggest employers in this country, employing half of all working Americans. When small businesses have a harder time staying competitive, it makes sense that we’ve got a real unemployment issue.

Obviously, this is a simplified metaphor, but perhaps the biggest difference between political elections and holiday shopping season is that we get to vote more than once.

It’s unavoidable to shop at chains and corporations, especially as college kids. But shop consciously and spread your cash around.

Buy your brand-name kicks from places such as Playmakers. It sponsors runners of all ages by hosting clinics about running healthy, and facilitates running clubs and events for high schoolers. I vote for that.

Eat at locally owned restaurants such as the Peanut Barrel — which gets its beer from a mid-Michigan distributor, places ads in this paper and has its website designed by an East Lansing tech agency.

I suffer from no delusions that there isn’t a place for the Wal-Marts and Amazons of the world, but we don’t have to go all in on corporate.

Our spending habits have changed, and we’ve got to start looking at them critically. Because when you break it down, if a bunch of individuals start spending with societal costs in mind, that’s what economic recovery will look like.

Abby Wood is a guest columnist at The State News and a journalism senior. Reach her at

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