Think Local First: In Baltimore or Anywhere, USA

It’s time to join tens of millions of Americans who are rediscovering commerce in a local ECOnomy where customers are not treated like “consumers,” but rather as friends, fellow citizens, or neighbors.

While visiting a good friend in Baltimore, Maryland, my family and I wandered the narrow streets of Fell’s Point, the eclectic and artistic enclave and community that offers a more laid back vibe than the festive and equally bustling Baltimore Inner Harbor, peppered with national franchised restaurants and retail chain stores. As travelers, we recognized how the “buy local” movement echoes the growing ecotravel movement, allowing us to experience an authentic sense of place, supporting the restoration and redevelopment of neighborhoods and preserve one-of-a-kind businesses that create one-of-a-kind communities.

We ended up spending most of our day in Fell’s Point where the somewhat Bohemian community seemed to soak up its reputation not just for its retail district and overall attractiveness to hang out or go jogging, biking, or strolling. It’s one of the places where buying local thrives as Buy Local Baltimore, a project of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Association. Buy Local Baltimore is an educational and marketing campaign designed to encourage area residents to patronize local independent businesses in an effort to improve the quality of life in Baltimore neighborhoods and enhance the economic vitality of the greater Baltimore region. Baltimore’s take on building a more vibrant local economy with small business entrepreneurship reflects the larger movement afoot nationally which often emerges from such organizations as the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE).

We ducked into artisanal shops, learned about the history of the area at the Fell’s Point Maritime Museum and sipped a cafe mocha at the Daily Grind, featuring coffee roasted right in town and served up with a smile and a discount for bringing in my own mug. For dinner we savored locally harvested steamed mussels at Bertha’s — even my young son enjoyed one.

We picked up a card from the Buy Local Baltimore which nicely summarizes some of the many reasons why we could do a little more commerce in our communities (instead of shopping at big box stores where most of the money, especially those profits, leaves our community):

1. Keeping money in the neighborhood.

On average, for every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 stays in the community according to Buy Local Baltimore. For a chain store, less than $14 stays in the community.

2. Improving the environment.

Rather than motoring to big box stores and malls located at the urban fringes, small businesses often restore buildings, help renovate neighborhoods and revitalize local, place-based commercial districts that depend less on people moving around to get the goods or services they need. This translates to less sprawl, congestion, habitat loss and pollution.

3. Community collaborations.

Since locally-owned businesses may have children or family directly involved in the activities within the community they’re based, non-profits receive as much as 350 percent more support from local businesses than they do from absentee owned enterprises.

4. Creating more enterprising opportunities for ecopreneurs.

As I write about in ECOpreneuring, small green businesses are the catalyst for innovative change and the very foundation for a stable, interconnected and interdependent local economy in which small business owners seek to fill ECOnomical niches (in much the same way animals and plants fill ecological niches). According to Buy Local Baltimore, small local businesses offer greater loyalty to their employees while, as a group, representing the largest employers nationally and in Baltimore.

In these times of rapidly rising energy costs and recognition of climate change, relocalization of our commerce to serve the community who lives (or travels) there may be one of the more effective ways to make the world a better place. Besides the triple bottom line approach to running a green business, ecopreneurs have adopted this as a strategy to become more viable and sustainable enterprises.

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