Christmas is just around the corner, the season for gifts and good wishes. If one is wondering how to contribute to the community while spending, buying local might just be the answer.
As Jill Mcknight, executive director of the Delta Chamber of Commerce, aptly explains, buying local might mean different things to different people. It could be getting a book from a neighbourhood bookstore, or buying fruits produced by local farms, but all in all, it has a ripple and multiplying effect on the local economy.
“When you are going to a local restaurant, you are supporting the farmer who sells the potatoes to the restaurant and the restaurant probably also hires some high school student who handles the menu created by a local designer at the neighborhood print shop, that’s how the dollars go further. When you spend 10 dollars locally, a significant percentage of it gets recirculated in the community,” says Mcknight. “And when your dollar was spent at a local business, it’s also paying the landlord who pays the property taxes that fund parks and pools or the police and the fire services. It’s all about making our whole community a better place to live.”
Buying local – a matter of awareness
She also emphasizes that buying local is much more about consumer awareness about buying products that are locally made or use local resources than just going to the store in the neighbourhood.
“If I am going to Costco and I’m buying cucumbers from Windset farms, that’s a local greenhouse. Costco doesn’t feel like a local business, but I can still choose to buy from a local supplier. It’s thinking about buying local differently,” she says.
Mcknight adds that when consumers can’t get what they need locally, they can try to shop as locally as possible. This doesn’t just help local businesses; it also helps reduce carbon footprints and in turn helps save the environment.
Many local businesses also tend to be small in scale, short on resources and more vulnerable to external changes. That is also why it is important to see them survive through the hard times.
According to Mcknight, during the pandemic, many local manufacturers have had challenges with their supply chains – getting orders fulfilled or finding alternatives, on top of labour shortage issues and dealing with online transitions.
To support them, the BC Chamber of Commerce has launched the Shop Local initiative since last year. It provides grants for programs and campaigns to encourage people to shop local to help businesses through the pandemic and beyond.
Mcknight says that the Delta Chamber of Commerce has used the funding to create a marketing campaign to raise public awareness. It featured more than twenty Delta businesses, some of which, Mcknight admits, before the campaign she didn’t know were local.
Supporting budding businesses
Buying local also means supporting local budding entrepreneurs and giving them a chance to grow and thrive against bigger competitors. Often these entrepreneurs are from minority communities who spot a gap in the market because of their own unique backgrounds. By supporting their businesses, society becomes more inclusive and diverse.
Courtnei Lee, who is at the Vancouver Christmas Market this year promoting her OYT Cosmetics, did not see her success coming when she first launched one small product three years ago. The business has now grown to offer more than 150 products.
As a trans woman who transitioned five years ago, she was looking for more resources for LGBTQ people in the beauty industry but didn’t find much.
“There is a lack of representation and there isn’t anyone developing products. So, I think why not try to start one and be the difference that I want to see in the industry?” she says.
Lee has named the company OYTC, which stands for Oh Yes Trans Cosmetics.
“One of the things as a trans person, a phrase that you hear all the time is, oh, you’re trans. And the way that somebody says that tells you about your safety in the situation. So, the way that we hear that phrase can let us know a little bit about the position that we’re in with that person or that person’s judgment,” Lee explains.
Initially targeting the LGBTQ community, Lee was surprised that her products have quickly gone mainstream. Many outside the community also purchased the products.
“We’re being celebrated in the mainstream for what we’re doing. It’s a bit of a rescue as you never know when you show people who you are. They can be taken differently sometimes, and people can judge you. And we are really grateful that we are just surrounded by love,” says Lee.
She hopes her company can lead the way to show that being yourself and being authentic doesn’t limit you in any way. If anything, it will help to grow the business as employees are willing to work harder when they are more excited to be part of products where they can give themselves.
By working with local manufacturers and making clean cosmetics, Lee has much bigger ambitions for the future. She says it would be really exciting to be a well-known brand that grows out of and represents Vancouver as well as representing the LGBTQ community.
Do what you can
Having community backing is crucial for a local business and a lot of it comes down to strong relationships.
Mcknight, who is also an owner of a fashion store in Delta, says local small businesses can weather difficulties and competition because of strong customer relationships.
“It comes down to being a part of the community and that helps to connect it back to consumers,” she says. “There’s a bookstore close to us and many people told me that if there was a book they wanted, the bookstore would order it and they would have it within six days. And for that consumer, yes, maybe they could have ordered it from an online provider. But because they have this relationship, customers make that conscious choice to support the business.”
And supporting local businesses is also more than just buying as McKnight concludes.
“For some people, it might be that it is not an option they have available to them. So, there are also other ways to support local through non-financial ways, such as giving a business a great review, and helping share their social media posts so that the algorithm makes it more populated. I think that’s part of the very encompassing approach to supporting local – do what you can,” she says.
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Imagine our Streets without Local