Friday, July 12, 2024

We Need to Take Back Our Local Economy

By Stephen Vance, Editor

I stopped in to our local bookseller last week in hopes of picking up a copy of the latest Stuart McLean book. After not finding it on the shelves, I asked at the counter and the response I heard, while not surprising, made my heart sink.

I was told that while the book may come in to the shop at some point, there was no guarantee, particularly in an era when minimum order requirements, which have become increasingly common in the global marketplace, can make it prohibitive for small town shops to even place an order.

This isn’t a new problem, but it is a problem that continues to impact more and more businesses, and it is small towns – with their already (and understandably) limited choices – that suffer first, and for the longest, with these sorts of problems.

Some are content to argue that the free market is sacrosanct, and whatever the result of the free market, it must simply be accepted, and we all move on. Others have been sounding alarm bells over issues like this for the last couple of decades as the realities of the move to a global marketplace have set in.

We Canadians are a typically compliant bunch, and we go with the flow. A few decades ago we were able to be sold on a free-trade agreement with the United States, and then watched our manufacturing sectors shrink and sometimes die. Years later we hadn’t yet lost enough so we allowed ourselves to be drawn into a North American free-trade agreement, and we then sat back to watch our manufacturing sector continue to shrink as the low-paying service economy begun its foothold. These days we’re seriously at risk of being sucked into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

And if the trade deals and the proliferation of the global marketplace haven’t hurt enough, manufacturers and distributors, having been conditioned over the last several decades to “go big or go home”, implement policies such as minimum order requirements that, as they compound, are making small town economies virtually impossible to maintain.

I’m no economist, but I get concerned when as a Canadian I stop in to my local independently-owned book shop to buy a book written by a Canadian author and entertainer, but can’t because distribution companies, who are no doubt owned by ‘global’ corporations, establish policies that can only do one thing to small markets – kill them.

Is this what we want? We can argue all day about trade deals and ideology, but let’s just get down to brass tacks. Do we really want to allow the mega-corporations to complete their takeover of, well, everything? When we want a book, do we want our only option to be Amazon?

Personally, I find a lot of value in shopping locally, and in always first attempting to source whatever product I’m purchasing as close to home as possible, but the mega-corporations have been trying to convince us for decades that we’re better off saving all kinds of money by shopping in giant regional stores full of cheap products from the global marketplace.

I often hear grumbling about empty storefronts in our downtown, and often I hear that council needs to do something about it: I hear that we need economic development. If we truly want to create economic development in this, or any small town, we first need to re-localize.

Imagine if everyone in this community stopped ordering their books from Amazon, or purchasing from the chain store in the mall a half hour away, and instead visited our local shop and all placed our book orders there, allowing for the ridiculous minimum order requirement to be met.

Then imagine if we collectively returned all of our business to the local shoe stores – I bet their prices would eventually drop slightly, and they would carry more, and a wider variety of styles and brands.

Next we could collectively make our purchases at the clothing shop down the road that currently doesn’t carry what we want, but they could if all of our clothing business was being funnelled through them.

I know, it sounds crazy – and it is, it’s crazy that we’ve arrived at the point when, in order to save our local economy, we need to return to local businesses what has been slowly stolen from them for the last few decades. That is pretty crazy.

We need to take back our economy, and we can only do that by making drastic change. The optimist in me thinks that as a society we might be close to rock bottom in our addiction to the global marketplace and will become motivated to take back our economy, but the realist in me fears that it is too late, especially for small towns.

 

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