When I was in junior high school, I lived in a town of twenty thousand people. Our town was a hundred miles from two large cities. All my friends’ families went to those cities for back-to-school shopping and Christmas shopping. Ours was the only family I knew who did not go to the cities to shop. The only family.
I had been aware for several years that we were the outliers who didn’t make this twice-yearly pilgrimage for gold, frankincense and myrrh (or pleated skirts, knee sox, and penny loafers), but little kids don’t question the status quo. However, when I hit junior high, I wanted to be able to talk about our back-to-school shopping trip, our Christmas shopping trip. (Not that I cared about clothes or fashion; I didn’t. I simply wanted to be able to join in the conversation.)
When I asked my parents at dinner one night in early December why we couldn’t go to Lubbock or Amarillo to Christmas shop, my dad put down his fork and looked at me, his eyes gentle. “Honey,” he said, “I’m a lawyer. My clients are the people in this town. They put the food on this table. The cabbage on your fork, the corned beef on your plate, and the pie on the counter are going in your belly tonight because of the people who live in this town. They help me feed my family because they hire me as their lawyer instead of hiring a lawyer from out of town. I will help them feed their families by buying our goods and services from them.”
He resumed eating, as did I, but I knew he had more to say. After a few bites, he started talking again. “You see,” he said, “Expecting our neighbors and friends to support our family by hiring me would be unfair if we took the money they paid us and spent it out of town to help strangers feed their families instead of reciprocating. It’s a matter of fairness, of being just.”
Then he approached the matter from a different angle. “Also,” he said, “I want to pay the city sales tax to support this town, not another town. I want to support our police and fire protection I want to help keep our streetlights lit and our stoplights working. I want to help pay the bonds that build our schools. The money for those services for our city comes in part from sales tax. If we don’t buy locally, we’re not supporting our town. We’re not paying for the services we use.”
He reached for his coffee, sipped a little, and sat down the cup. “Do you understand?” he asked.
Then my mother added her perspective. She said, “When we get sick or someone in our family dies, who do you think will sit at our bedside? Who will pray for us? Who will bring us a casserole to eat? The people in this town, or the people in the city?”
“The people here,” I said, folding my napkin and leaning back in my chair.
“That’s right,” said my mom, “And those are the people we want to support, not the strangers in the city.”
That, then, is why I shop locally.