But When You Do Shop, Shop Small

zero waste farmers market fall produce sitting on a dark wooden table

Shop small could mean shop less. And I do suggest we all do that. But in this post, by shop small, I mean shop at small independent businesses—the local bookstore, bike shop and bakery. Why?

A fraction of the bulk bins at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco

1. Less packaging waste

Which came first, our addiction to convenience or the convenience of online shopping? Either way, this addiction has created a boon for online retailers—from clothing, to groceries, to meal kits with each ingredient individually wrapped, all delivered neatly to our door, no human interaction required. All of this convenience comes with literally tons of packaging—and in cities like San Francisco, higher garbage fees to handle all the waste

If you buy online from a small business, such as an Etsy shop, it will more likely heed your no-plastic-and-less-packaging-please instructions. If you buy in person, you can bring your own bag or container to the store and eliminate the packaging altogether.

2. More efficient transportation

Locally owned stores receive many deliveries from one truck whereas a big online retailer ships out many deliveries all over the place. Think 100 items shipped to 100 addresses versus 100 items shipped to one address. Yes, you’ll need transportation to the store to pick up your item. But you’ll find most local businesses clustered together in city centers, not on the outskirts of town (where big box stores tend to be), so you may be able to take public transit, ride your bike or walk to the small business and ideally, also run a few errands at once.

If you can buy local products in local stores, you slash the transportation emissions even more. Food is a great example. I live in Northern California. I can practically see the apple orchards from where I live but I cannot find a locally grown organic apple in the big chain grocery stores here. They come either from Washington State or even farther—Chile. When I shop at the farmers’ market, most of the food was grown less than 100 miles away.

Deli sandwich brought home in a stainless steel LunchBot

3. More likely to fulfill your “weird” requests

Want to fill your jars up with bulk foods, provide your own container for takeout or bring your own mug for a cup of tea—all without the staff either flat out refusing or insisting that they must first call head office to seek permission? Go to a small business. Small businesses will more likely do whatever it takes to retain their customers. The big guys, not so much.

4. More money injected into your local economy

According to IndieBound, an association of independent local bookstores, when you shop at a small, local business, for every $100 you spend, $52 stays in the community. Spend $100 with the big guys and a paltry $13 remains in your community. Spend that $100 online remotely and no money stays in your community. No sales taxes are collected to pay for, you know, building roads and funding schools and keeping hospitals open and paying firefighters… Local businesses also create local jobs—and usually higher paying ones. Those employees go on to spend their paychecks in the community.

Matchy matchy is overrated

5. Stronger community

When I shop at the farmers’ market, I run into neighbors and chat with vendors. I feel a sense of community. You don’t experience that shopping online or passing by streets lined with boarded-up storefronts. Local independents also often get involved in the community—sponsoring baseball and soccer and hockey teams, taking part in local events and celebrations and donating to local causes. And they are very generous. According to Indiebound, “Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.”

6. More diversity

Every small, local café is unique—the beverages, the food, the décor. Every Starbucks is identical. Whereas big corporations make all their buying decisions from centralized head offices, rendering their stores homogenous, small businesses all differ in their offerings. Which would you rather see in your neighborhood? Corporate America or independents that reflect your town and region?

So, if you want that locally owned, quirky coffee shop down the road—the one that serves its to-go coffee in ceramic mugs that customers borrow and return—to be there when you need a quiet place to escape to, buy your coffee there rather than at a Starbucks.

10 Replies to “But When You Do Shop, Shop Small”

  1. I love this article and agree with all your points.

  2. I love this, thank you for these reminders!

  3. Yes, I agree. You are a little more devoted than I. But I am from Boulder, where this all started with the Food Co-Ops. We all brought our bags, or jars for bulk items. Tare weight was taken off the purchase. I have been against plastic for a long time. I do use it a little, storage for frig leftovers, and have Saran-Wrap that I use sparingly. I am even against Aluminum foil, again sparingly used. I use glass jars for most all my bulk storage, homemade soup Stock & Broth (There is a difference.), Bentonite Clay, herbs, even my cooked beans. Which by the way, I discovered if you cook Chick Peas aka Garbanzo Beans, plain, after washing, soaking for 8 hours, pour off the cooking water, and store Chick Peas in a quart jar. Perfect safe storage in the frig.
    When I make a Frittata, I toss in a handful of the cooked GB, and voila more protein, great texture, toss in some Curry for the health of it. Top with some shredded cheese, put a glass lid on it and you have a perfectly cooked Frittata. Other ingredients: half chopped onion, quarter yellow, red, or Orange sweet Pepper, Zucchini chopped, saute all in 1 T. EVOO, add some Lawry’s All-purpose Seasoning Herbs & Spices no salt, 1 T. water to prevent sticking; two scrambled eggs in a bowl with 1 T. water, 1 tsp. Half N Half, pour on top the cooked veggies, & beans, herbs; all in a cast iron skillet, of course. No need for a Broiler let it cook for a few minutes, then top all with cheese, glass lid and cook on low med for a few minutes.
    Serve with Lemon or Lime squeezed over sliced Tomatoes, fresh sliced Avocado, Salsa, Cholula Hot sauce or Sriracha. Add a Dollop of Greek Yogurt and you are good till lunch! Yum!
    Leftovers for Lunch? I use a Glass storage container with plastic lid, reusable. Perfect for transport to my office in an insulated lunch pouch.

  4. Kate Valdovinos says: Reply

    Love this! I just shared it with my peeps. ❤️🌳✌🏾

  5. Starbucks couldn’t make a go of it in Australia because of their sameness. Turns out Australians prefer coffee shops with individual personalities.

  6. Great post as always! Speaking of Starbucks, they are trying to woo vegan dollars with their new food and drink offerings, but we all need to make our voices heard loudly that if they truly wanted to be sustainable, they need to–at the minimum–drop their fee for sustainable milks–and the best would be to reverse the fees, ie, charge extra for environmentally degrading cow milk. If enough of us tag Starbucks in our posts, they may listen. Yes, we should support local cafes over Starbucks, but they have the power to make a huge difference in places where local is not an option, ie airports.

  7. Yes! I have tried to use my own container at the grocery store and they would not let me. At The health food co-op in a town near us they encourage people to bring their own containers for bulk items. All you have to do is stop off at the customer service desk and have your containes weighed so that the cashier can tare the container at check out.

  8. I also make sure to pay them in cash or with a check.
    Credit card fees are a real burden to small merchants, especially from those cards that give cash back to the buyer. Also they can’t negotiate lower fees like the blockbuster chains.
    My little local farm xan pay an extra worker with what they would pay in fees every month.

    1. Yes, I do the same. Thank you for the reminder!

  9. I loved it! Shared this with my colleagues also!



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