By DAN SMITH
Roy Lax has been chasing the dream job for years now and may have finally found at least the direction his pursuit needs to take.
It’s a modest beginning—a Web site—but it offers all kinds of possibilities, he believes. Roy, who is 37 and grew up in the Roanoke Valley (William Byrd High, Virginia Western), worked for Varney Inc. as the manager of the sheet metal shop for 12 years, segued into insurance sales (“I didn’t much like that”), opened a cleaning business, coached girls soccer (winning a state title at Hidden Valley High) and now has put his focus on ChooseLocallyOwned.com.
The interest germinated as he watched friends’ and colleagues’ businesses—all of them solid and worthy—struggle against outside forces that were often bigger and full of the advantages size brings.
“It’s about helping my friends,” he says frankly. It’s also about keeping more money in the local economy, “maintaining the unique character of specific areas” (he pointed to Grandin Village), keeping money going to local non-profits and “seeing that decisions are locally-made.”
The local shopping trend has gained considerable momentum in recent years, especially with shopping for food grown close, but there’s considerably more to it than that. Blogcatalog.com lists these reasons to keep it local: Dollars kept local have three times the impact on the community than money spent at corporate chains.
Local focus helps strengthen the employment market and “locally owned businesses may often be motivated to give workers better wages and benefits.” Independent locals pay more taxes and keep the taxes local. Chains drain taxes. Local owners are more invested in local growth and planning and their shops often require smaller spaces to operate, diminishing sprawl.
There’s something social about shopping locally. Many small companies, rather than one or two large ones, create innovation and competition. Service at specialized local companies is often far, far superior—and more knowledgeable—than that at large companies (think: lawnmower repiar or buying a hardware specialty item and being shown how to use it).
“Many chain supermarkets have appalling ethics, particularly in their relationships with third-world farmers.” If you buy locally, store owners often know suppliers by first names. Local shops often reduce fuel use and eliminate monopoly pricing. That pricing is often attractive at the end, but consider how it got there. Much of it is the result of predatory practices.
When Valley Business FRONT started a bit more than a year and a half ago, one of the first points of emphasis was its local ownership by people who care about this community. That continues to be a point of emphasis, along with the company’s leadership in community issues and the inside knowledge \of its institutions and leaders that leads to informed reporting.
FRONT is one of many, many scores of stories that are similar and Roy hopes to get a buy-in (as advertisers) from small, local companies that want to offer alternatives to those whose default shopping buttons are set on the big boxes, the national chains and owners who don’t even know where Mill Mountain is.
Primarily using social media to spread the word, Roy was up to 30 sponsors on his site recently and was thinking, “This is looking like more than a side venture.” He’s ready to extend the scope to communities that are nearby and make it a little more regional in scope, but a 50 mile radius is still local. And local is what it’s all about.