I have been busy the last three days hauling roughly 2000 ripe pumpkins with a cadre of international friends and learning how to make tofu from soy beans. That, and reading The Small-Mart Revolution (by Michael H. Shuman). Maybe you aren’t aware of this, but pumpkin picking, piling, wiping, and moving is repetitive, mindless work. Since it took a total of 8 – 10 hours to complete a 4 acre field, I have also had time to formulate how best to sum up this book for the discerning community participant, which is y.o.u. What follows are several “what you can do” points from the book (and more can be found here), a whirlwind of Massachusetts local information on farming and food, and some observations and ideas on retail and community living in Beverly.
Luckily for all of us, Shuman does not feel the need to start his book with a reiteration of WalMart as the anti-christ/devil incarnate. (I usually put down books which waste ink, paper, and brain cells on repetitive diatribes without solutions. Half this book is dedicated to solutions.) As Shuman himself points out on page 7; the point of a Revolution is to “improve prosperity of every community…by maximizing opportunities for locally owned businesses… which is half the typical economy.” He also provides a statistic on page 43 that this half of the economy also provides “at least 58 percent” of jobs. (p. 43)
Jobs which are not place-based, and largely non-locally owned (ie: Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Amazon) leech from the community (best approximated by tax jurisdiction) money which could be spent improving the community. (p. 40) They are also plied with incentives from community builders that usually destroy locally owned (ie: mom and pop) shops. Then he describes an interesting term I hadn’t heard before: “multiplier.” He writes, “Each purchase you make triggers purchases by others. For instance, a dollar spend on rent might be spent again by your property owner at your local grocer, who in turn pays an employee, who then buys a movie ticket.” This is a multiplier, how many times the dollar is used in the community. He says, the best thing you can do, is keep your money local. He cites a study of “leakage” of dollars in Austin, TX. which notes that of 100 dollars spent at Borders 13 circulate back into the local community, of 100 dollars spent at 2 local book stores, 45 circulate back into the community. The more times the money circulates, the more tax revenue it generates. (Also, you can view the study on this blog/website.)
Then he gives Massachusetts residents a kick in the pants about purchasing things in Tax Free New Hampshire.
That, friends, is the book in a nutshell. It’s chock full of other case studies about big vs. small business, incentives the government provides to big businesses, and how diversification is best for an area, and as previously mentioned also full of five chapters of how y.o.u can make a difference.
A riddle posed at most farms, and among most foodies I’ve lived with and talked with can be summarized like so, “How come we’re buying apples from New York (Washington, Nova Scotia, Vancouver…etc) when we grow apples right here in Massachusetts (list other places here.) and they’re buying our apples.” To this, Shuman proposes a little slogan that’s been kicking around for awhile. “Local First.”
“Local First” says, if you can, choose to buy your apples from a local source (perhaps one of the farms the Massachusetts government lists on their website here. Or one the Food Project so kindly provides a link to here.) And if you can, choose to buy your beer from a local source. And if you can, choose to eat out at a locally owned restaurant. And if you can, choose to entertain yourself with a local band. But here I am, just listing off to you half a dozen links I know of, and you probably can’t click them all. But if you do get the time, click of them, and this other project that is really taking off called the 3/50 project.
Finally, since I spent 20 months in downtown Beverly without a car and had plenty of time to walk around Rantoul and Cabot streets in all kind of weather, I humbly propose that there are still several businesses missing from downtown that could round out the Beverly Main Streets. (Actually, I’m sure there are dozens, but these are the items that took the most hassle to get without a car.)
1. A shoe store. 2. A book store (if you are going to forgo Amazon.com, or even just for the atmosphere) 3. Non-used clothing. (I’ll be honest, thrifted socks aren’t appealing to me.) 4. Home Goods (shelving, dishes, curtains, towels and the like. It’s either Family Dollar or the Antique Shop.) 5. A real honest bakery with bread. I love pies and pastries too of course, but a good loaf of bread was hard to come by. (sorry Stop and Shop, and Cassis.)
And, I will leave you with one last great idea to support local business in Beverly (and the North Shore). The BevCard. which is like a insider SamsClub type card providing you with deals and discounts to different shops and services. I think this is a fantastic idea, even better than the Beverly Main Streets coupon book, but hopefully would work in tandem too. I hope that in the next few years it will be able to provide many more links between businesses and that people will rush to be part of a great network.