The recent shuttering of Marty’s Market and announced relocation (or closing) of Pittsburgh Public Market have me sad, but even more so, have me frustrated. Mr. Beez went to the liquidation sale at Marty’s last weekend, and he told me how people kept going up to the owner, Regina, saying how much they loved the place and how sad they were to see it closing, but you could just see it in her eyes, the thought that “That’s very nice, but if you loved it so much, shopping here would have kept it open!”
#ShopSmallSaturday is a cute idea and well intentioned, but it has facilitated a “Shop Small” mindset that is restricted to novelty, or increasingly, self-publicized social media posts announcing “LOOK I AM SUPPORTING THE SMALL BUSINESSES!” Yes, I too am guilty of such self-congratulation. (Here and here). Small businesses do not survive, much less thrive, on a single day of celebrated shopping or blog posts filled with praise. Small businesses survive on dollars.
At the beginning of 2015, I set a resolution to transition all my grocery shopping to the East End Food Co-Op. This goal was grounded in several reasons, (1) it is a local, member owned, community supported business and I decided I needed to step up my real, dollars and cents, support of that endeavor, (2) the principles that the co-op applies in selecting the products it offers are consistent with my own principles concerning health, fairness to employees, and local-focus, so shopping there dramatically cuts down (if not eliminates) my need to sort through information about the brands and products themselves, and (3) Mr. Beez has long been on the board of the co-op and its success is important to him, so I wanted to step up our financial support from occasional shopping to regular shopping.
At a month in, I found that I had to make some tweaks to how I shopped, but that otherwise it was all going swimmingly. Now, over a year in, the co-op has become our regular grocery store and the thought of shopping at the normal chain places is exhausting to me. Sure, occasionally I have to shop at a larger grocery chain because there are things that the co-op just doesn’t have (see: ingredients for buffalo chicken dip). But the mainstays of our diet now come from the co-op.
Throughout 2015, we continued to make changes to make sure that our dollars stayed in the community. I guess the co-op principles really struck a chord, and we applied those principles more broadly in our lives. For the last several years we have had summer farm shares. In 2015 we got our fruit & vegetable farm share with Clarion River Organics, and then expanded to also get a beef share. I’m not going to fill this post up with links about factory farming, you can go find that yourself. But I decided that if we were going to continue to cook meat in the house, I could at least make sure that I was getting it from local farmers, focused on the quality of life of the animals.
We also made the Pittsburgh Public Market a regular part of our lives– every Saturday we go there for lunch after Baby Beez’ ballet class is over. She gets her chocolate milk from Family Farm Creameries and a hot dog from Bull Dawgs. Mr. Beez gets his pint of Red Star Kombucha, and we pick our lunches based on whatever we happen to feel like that day (usually Ohio City Pasta, omg amazing). While we used to only go to the Public Market as an occasional outing, we have since turned it into a regular part of our lives.
I’m not writing this to be sanctimonious. Shopping local can be expensive and sometimes inconvenient. I am not asking everyone to abandon Target and only get non-bleached paper towels at the co-op. I don’t shop local all the time. I’ve got a Starbucks coffee on my desk right now. But what I’ve been working harder at over the last year is making local businesses a routine part of my family’s every day life, so that supporting a local business isn’t just what we do in our day to day lives, not some isolated novelty.
If our community wants to see these small businesses move forward, we have to spend our money at these small businesses. Yelp posts about how charming the business is doesn’t go very far. It is a kick to the gut, watching small businesses that are so important to us, have to close when the public’s spending doesn’t match its professed fondness.
So start making small changes. Make small business the priority you claim it to be.
When you are going on a coffee date with a friend, instead of immediately offering to meet at the ‘bux, consider instead: Commonplace Coffee, Zeke’s, Big Dog Coffee, Constellation Coffee, Coffee Tree Roasters, 21st Street Coffee, Anchor & Anvil Coffee Bar or Lili Cafe.
When you are picking up coffee to brew at home, instead of grabbing the bag of Dunkin, consider instead beans from: Coffee 19, Caffe D’Amore, La Prima Espresso or Nicholas Coffee Co.
When you’re running out to pick up lunch on a workday, instead of grabbing Subway, consider: Umbrella Cafe, Madonna’s, Bluebird Kitchen, Market Square Grocery or Craftwork Kitchen.
When you’re picking up beer for the game, instead of grabbing six packs at Market District, consider: picking up bottles at Carson St. Deli, getting a case at Vecenie Distributing, or filling growlers at Grist House, Arsenal Cider, VooDoo Brewery, Full Pint or at Houghs.
When you’re picking up a birthday gift & card, instead of running to CVS, consider: Wild Card, Kards Unlimited, or make a point to stop over at one of the many sessions of I Made it Market!
When you’re ordering pizza for Superbowl Sunday, instead of calling Domino’s, consider: Rialto’s, Fiore’s, Cestone’s, Spak Bros. or (if you’re feeling fancy) Pizza Taglio.
It’s a little tougher in the suburbs, but when you’re in the city, there are small businesses everywhere. It’s not enough to profess our love for them on the internet. If we want them to thrive, we need to spend our money there as part of our everyday lives.
If you’re so inspired, please share your favorite local spots. I’m always up for new ideas for keeping our dollars in the community.