During this COVID-19 era, any trip through the commercial corridors of Oak Park, Illinois—my community along the western border of Chicago—has revealed its potential as a post-apocalyptic movie set.
But here in my town—and wherever you are, within your community—there is a simple mathematical principle that empowers us to revise the script: shop locally, as much and as often as possible.
In explaining the multiplier effect of local independent businesses, the American Independent Business Alliance states, “The multiplier results from the fact that independent locally-owned businesses recirculate a far greater percentage of revenue locally compared to absentee-owned businesses (or locally-owned franchises). In other words, going local creates more local wealth and jobs.”
In Oak Park, partly to blame for our ghost-town vibe is extensive road and infrastructure work coursing right through the heart of the community. Given the current state of business distress, with little traffic anyhow, our village leaders have wisely accelerated those efforts. That full-speed-ahead approach, sort of like quickly ripping off a bandage to hasten the pain, is about the only lemonade to come out of this historically humongous lemon.
Efforts to preserve physical health through the COVID era have had major side-effects, not the least of which is a business community with numerous members who find themselves on mercantile life support. It is a condition that prevails across the entire country. Solving the United States’ problems is well beyond any one local group’s capacity to remedy. However, any community grappling on the commercial home front can take steps to minimize the damage in their own backyard, and then turn the tide.
For those in and around Oak Park, not every dollar can be expended within our few square miles. However, making a conscious decision to allocate a few more pennies per dollar can make a meaningful difference, especially when considering the multiplier effect. A decade ago, that philosophy was at the heart of my role for two years as marketing coordinator of “Shop the Village.”
A coordinated initiative supported by the Village of Oak Park, Downtown Oak Park and other business districts, Shop the Village was a marketing arm for dozens of businesses partaking in the campaign the first year (spanning three months before and after the year-end holidays). The next year, 2009, building on lessons gleaned from that first year, we engaged a “Super Shopper Spotter” campaign. It featured a super-hero character played by yours truly.
This is not a proposal to bring back that Caped Crusader of Commerce. You do not need to put on big red boots or have campy humor to recognize that shopping locally is a practical, powerful way for us all to serve our own best interests. It is through our daily choices that we each have a super-simple, super-heroic role to play.