At Your Service: April 2, 2008

These are tough economic times and all indications are that it is going to get worse before it gets better. Five dollars for a gallon of gas by summer – that’s what some are predicting. On a practical level, this means that the time has never been better to shop locally.
While it may be true that the goods and services in a few stores continue to invite us to shop elsewhere, those are few and far between. It may seem like it makes sense, once you have made the trip to Kingston or Oneonta, to fill the car with bargains from the mega-stores. But there is a hidden price we all pay for spending our dollars at Wal-Mart.
The U.S. Census Bureau Trade Division reports that in January of this year, we exported $5.9 billion in goods and services to China; in the same month, what we imported cost $26.2 billion. That amounts to a trade deficit of over $20 billion in just one month. Wal-Mart, is responsible for over $8 billion of the annual deficit, which last year was $256 billion. I won’t even try to discuss the quality of much of the merchandise we are getting from China.
There are compelling economic reasons to shop locally. The on-going war in Iraq has been a costly business, leaving less and less for federal expenditures at the local level. Indications are that the state budget, expected to be completed this week, will contain few increases of funds to counties and municipalities. Our counties need the money they get from sales tax. Traveling outside the county to shop is one way of guaranteeing even higher property taxes. If there were no other reason to shop locally, this one would be enough.
Most of our retailers carry top quality merchandise and are selling it at competitive prices, even before you factor in the price of gas. In an informal survey of prices, I found that a gallon of milk was only two cents higher than in Kingston and a loaf of bread was actually a penny cheaper than in Oneonta. While I did find some rather significant price differentials, they were on specialty items that I would expect to pay more for anywhere.
Local retailers provide not just goods and services but also jobs. Buying locally is a form of insurance that these good jobs will continue to be needed and therefore stay in the area.
Only a healthy business can afford to pay its employees wages that keep them happy and encourage excellent customer service. With more customers and related income, the health of any business improves. It further ensures regular turnover of inventory and therefore fresher products. As a regular customer, you also have more clout to demand and receive the service you want and deserve.
Many of our local businesses also support local artisans by selling their wares. We even have shops that specialize in locally made products. These are for more than the tourist. It won’t be long before we will be able to buy locally grown produce as well. All of these are opportunities to support another part of our local economy.
The next time you take a $20 bill and get half a tank of gas, consider driving around the corner rather than down the road. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. This area has among its business people a majority that is committed to customer satisfaction and excellence. They are working hard to make those a reality in the operation of their businesses. They are our neighbors and friends and they deserve the support of those they are working so hard to serve.