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Sue's Views -- 'Shop Local' is worthy ideal but it takes cooperation to succeed

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Members of the Chamber's Retail Trade committee were having a conversation last week about the importance of shopping locally. Highlights of the discussion were the fact that local businesses give back to the community through employee wages, property taxes and donations to local organizations; high gas prices have increased the cost of driving out of town and cuts into whatever small savings you might think you're gaining; and dollars spent locally turnover in the community many times.

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I didn't say much during the meeting, but I have been thinking about the "Shop Local" campaign since then.

I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of shopping local. Your first stop should be in your town. Even if the item you are looking for was in an ad for one of those big box retailers in another town. When my son was two, I wanted to get him a child-sized table and chairs that I saw in a Target flier. But, because my husband and I were working split shifts and didn't have time or energy to travel out of town, we took the ad to one of our hometown stores. No, they didn't have the exact same item as in the ad, they had something better for the exact same price. Since then, I always look in Morris first.

Yet, shopping local is a bit more complicated that its simple mantra implies because it's not always just about the shoppers.

A couple years after my happy shop at home experience, my husband and I hit a bump in the road of life and were struggling financially. We had two children and were working part-time jobs with no benefits, so we were on the state-subsidized insurance plan and used food stamps. Shopping locally was an entirely different kind of experience for me then. I felt anything but welcome in a couple places and at least one employee let me know that she didn't appreciate that taxpayers were supporting, what she called, my lazy habits. I can't imagine what she thought was happening in my life, but I certainly wasn't very proud or happy to be handing her my Minnesota Care card. Trust me, I wasn't milking any system. In fact, I was working harder then than I have before or since. Honestly, it was just so much easier to shop in another community during that time in my life. No one knew me and more importantly, no one cared how I paid since a purchase using my state debit card was no different than one made with a Visa card.

Oh, yes, I understand that it is impossible to make everyone happy, and as a business owner you can go broke trying. But in the end, shopping locally is an opportunity for both buyer and seller to show their concern and interest in each other as well as just making money.

Now that I have a fulltime job that provides me with not only a good salary but top-notch benefits, I've had to force myself to go back into those places and face those who judged me. But I will always carry the memory of knowing that only hard-earned cash is welcome in some places. However, I try to use the experience as a reminder to appreciate everything I have, including the privilege of paying cash, more than an excuse not to support my business colleagues.

Of course, there will always be something you can't find locally, and the next big town is just 45 minutes away and the Internet is open 24 hours a day. But I wonder how many folks really actively shop locally. Have you visited every store in town in the past year? Or ever? You might be surprised what you find right here in the old hometown. This goes for all the businesses in town, including hair salons, restaurants and bars. With a little imagination, shopping locally could be less of an obligation and more of an adventure. And friendly clerks who know me and my interests only enhance the adventure by helping me find new things and, occasionally, shift my opinion on what I need.

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