Keep it Simple, Keep it Local

As most of you have probably already heard, two of our favorite spots in downtown Columbiana will sadly be closing their doors at the end of this year. Generations Coffee Lab and All Good Things were a big part of the draw for Spade and I to travel to Columbiana. In hearing of the closures, it was not only heartbreaking but also aggravating. These were two local spots with integrity, high quality products, and style. What would cause these two amazing places to have to make that hard decision to throw in the towel? While there may have been internal factors that led to the recent events, I felt like there was more to the story. The only common denominator was the community. This in no way is a jab at the Columbiana community, the area is brimming with some of the most caring and accommodating people we know. However, it is an introspective look at our entire Mahoning Valley and what we need to do take this area to the next level.

How and where we spend our money says a lot about who we are as individuals and as a community. Do we all remember back in the early 2000’s when that email from Nike went viral? The one where someone tried to put the word “sweatshop” on the side of one of their shoes? (Useless trivia side note, the guy who started BuzzFeed was responsible for all of that.) Then for about six months everyone was outraged over the working conditions of third world companies employed by Nike. Sales at Nike dramatically dropped, yet in no time we all seemed to forget about it. Why is that? Did we really believe that working conditions improved? Somehow, I don’t think that’s true. This was more of an internal change than an external one. We were able to justify buying Nike shoes again, most likely just because we liked the way the shoe looked.

This situation illuminates two major themes of macro and micro economy. The first is our breach between what I call practical ideology and paper ideology. Paper ideology is what we say we believe or think. These are the things we post about on social media or bring up in conversation that we say are important to us. Practical ideology is what we make important by our actions. There are a lot of us in our community that say local business and shops are important to us. We might post pictures on Instagram, or “like” a local shop’s Facebook page. How many of us are patronizing these spots on a regular basis? There will always be times when we go to big chains and this isn’t inherently wrong, but if we went to local spots even 70 percent of the time it would make a massive impact. We will never “grow up” as a community if we can’t narrow the gap between our paper ideology and practical ideology.

The second conclusion I can draw from the Nike situation is our ability as Americans to disconnect ourselves from the realities. Because we didn’t know any of those children in third world countries making the shoes, or because we weren’t specifically the ones making them work in these harsh conditions, we were able to bypass that in our heads and justify supporting the company that did. The same way you probably wouldn’t order as many chicken sandwiches if you had to go to the slaughter house and they had to kill a chicken right there in front of you for you to eat. (Not that I’m for or against vegetarianism—not the point.) We are disconnected from that chicken and the direct cause of it being slaughtered, so we line up around the block at Chick-fil-A. Sometimes we fall into that same pit right here in our hometowns. Because we don’t directly know the owners of certain businesses, it doesn’t hurt as much when you pull into that Starbucks drive-thru. If you only knew that the decision you make every day of where you eat and drink had such an effect on the people around you; that buying your next latte at a local spot could put food on the table of your neighbor, would you then think twice? Or buying your next burger at a hometown joint could be bolstering the life-long dream of the guy in front of you at the bank. That’s a big reason why Spade and I do what we do, to be that conduit between the community and the local businesses.

Another obstacle we make is the convenience factor. As Midwest Americans we have become so used to the ease of certain things in life. Maybe your local coffee shop doesn’t have a drive-thru, or the café downtown doesn’t have an app for your to order with and you have to drive ten minutes out of the way to get their and god forbid parallel park. I would like to point out folks that these are all small-town suburban problems. Go into any larger city and this is everyday life. It takes thirty minutes just to get five blocks and ten just to park. There are no drive-thrus—everyone walks up to the counter to order. Do you know what the trade off is? Thriving communities and neighborhoods filled with locally owned spots. I would venture to go as far as to say if you picked up All Good Things and Generations Coffee Lab and put them in places like Chicago or Philadelphia, they would never have had to close.

I could go on about this topic, I have a strong passion for the people in this community putting everything they have into making it a better place. If you’ve made it to the end of this article than I can assume you are as passionate about this as Spade and I are. This is where my words turn from a PSA to a call to action. I heard a term a few weeks ago called “buycott.” It’s where people intentionally support certain places to make a statement. My challenge to the readers is that for the next two weeks of this year we will only buy coffee from local coffee shops. I only chose coffee because it’s simple, it’s in every community, and for most of us is something we drink daily. While we are out shopping let’s avoid those Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts drive-thrus and instead support places like Branch Street Coffee Roasters, Nova Coffee, High Octane Coffee, The Daily Grind, The Fowler Grind, Pressed, Generations, etc. The steel industry has come and gone friends. Its time to find a new bag of tricks in this rust belt. The only way for us to do this is to come together. Normally I would finish this with a quote from some 19th century writer, but I think the wise Tupac says it best— “We gotta make a change. It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes. Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live and let’s change the way we treat each other. You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do What we gotta do, to survive.” Additionally, to drive the point of this post home we asked many of our local owners to tell us what it really means to them when you shop local. I beg you—scroll down below and read the words that came right from their hearts, it will make you think twice about where you’re spending YOUR money.

ALL GOOD THINGS 

“…it’s incredibly important to support local economies. I agree completely with you about shopping at big box stores. Consumers shouldn’t feel like they are doing something wrong when shopping at chains. I’m sure most of them started as small, family-run businesses and were able to successfully grow into national or global corporations. But there has to be balance. Large corporations have the advantage of offering massive selections and low prices, something that small business will always have a hard time competing with. Unfortunately, this area of the country/state is very price conscious and it’s hard to get people to pay a little extra for something at a small store. I also believe that the large chains have done a good job convincing people that they offer the lowest price, even though that’s not always the case. We don’t do it very often, but I’m always shocked when we purchase fast food to find our bill to be $10/person- not far off from what you could get at our place. If anything, we had the better value being that our ingredients were fresher, healthier, and though some may disagree, better tasting. I remember seeing something that has been circulating on social media a lot that really stuck with me. It’s a statement that basically says when you shop at a large chain store, you’re helping pay for some executive’s yacht or 3rd vacation home in another country. When you shop at a small business, you are helping that family put food on their table or pay for dance lessons. I think we can all agree that the word community no longer has the same meaning it once did. Small towns had to rely on local businesses to supply them with their daily needs. People didn’t hop in their SUVs and drive 20+ miles to a huge shopping center or mall. Having and supporting local businesses brought people closer and ultimately produced better and stronger communities.”

YOUNGSTOWN FLEA

“Intentionally choosing community over convenience, where we can, is the answer. Trendy hashtags and buzzwords like ‘Shop Local’ that we seem to pay lip service to, must move in to something deeper. Real community requires work. It requires the work of all of us looking past our own lives and preoccupations in order to take stock of the support needed by these amazing business owners all around us. That’s not always easy but nothing this worthwhile is.”

COCKEYE BBQ

“Eating from local independent restaurants usually means more jobs. When our restaurant is successful our capital is spent locally. From the screen printers that print our uniforms, to the skilled trades that fix, renovate, and repair our building or to the professionals like attorneys and accountants; they all benefit with our growth. As owner’s we have a personal relationship with our customers.”

KINDRED COLLECTION

“It’s so important to spend your money locally because not only are you supporting the passion of someone who took a huge risk to be a small business owner in the first place, but that money tends to stay local.  Small business owners spend money supporting other small businesses, local charities, and by paying taxes all in your own community.  It’s a fragile system and it takes everyone to make it work and keep it running! Support Local!”

BIRDFISH BREWING CO.

“…why not support a local business that supports and collaborates with other local businesses?  We are getting closer to a farm to table beer here…  we have hops grown in Leetonia at Knucklehead Hop Farm and just got our first shipment of malt from Yarian Quality Malts… pretty cool…. all ingredients sourced within 5 miles or so from our brewery.”

MILLER LIVESTOCK

“We’ve been working on eating local for a long time–at Miller Livestock for decades (yikes!) but even in Youngstown we’ve worked for people to think about the triple bottom line. When you purchase local, you’re cutting down on transportation which reduces your carbon footprint. In the same way, when you spend your money locally, it travels a shorter distance (stays within your community) and also “turns” more times–to the local farmers, accountant, gas station owner, tractor supply store, whatever. So you get a greater yield on your money. And the social impact–healthier diets, environmental stewardship, biologic diversity and much more–are important benefits too. It’s the same for all kinds of makers-artists, flower growers, beer brewers-and businesses too. Keeping our food dollars and all of our purchasing power local is vital to the health and success of the Valley. “

BLOOMBEARDS

“When you eat and shop local you are supporting friends, neighbors, family, and your community.  You invest in the person that has the business and not just the products they make.  I feel responsible for giving my customers an experience they can’t get just by ordering something online. Your purchase supports my family as well… my wife and daughter, not someone who you don’t know in another state.  In turn we spend that money on other local goods that we need/use to help others locally…the support comes full circle.  I have always believed that if someone helps me and my business I want to bring them on the journey with my company and help them as well in any way that I can… thats why our one slogan is ‘come GROW with us’ both your facial hair and also with our biz.”

ORANGE AVOCADO

“Local businesses offer a personal touch. Not only with the experience, but the product itself is usually hand-made with unmatched quality, passion, and creativity. At national chains large portions of your money are shipped off to some other city. Whereas shopping locally is investing in your own community.”

THE LIME TREE

“When you’re supporting a small business, you’re likely supporting several small businesses, maybe even without realizing it. When you’re buying something at The Lime Tree for example, you’re supporting Scarpaci’s, Hal Mar Printing, the Warren Farmer’s Market, MacKenzie Farms, Bucha Bill, and various other farmers that we buy from throughout the year. When you’re shopping local, you’re stimulating your local economy, and helping to make the area you live in a better place to be. We truly try to live this way as much as possible. We eat local, we buy from local artists. It’s important for us to not only support our area, but to also be supporting people that we actually know and care about.”

RECLAIMED ROSE

“Eating and shopping local is important to me because I value the individuality and the identity that small business gives a community. I look back on local spots that I would frequent in my childhood within my neighborhood with great fondness. It’s those quaint, quirky and personal touches of those small businesses that draw you in and make a lasting impressions in your memories.”

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

“…shopping small and eating local supports the community.  We love to donate to our schools, boroughs, pet shelters and everything in between. They’ve all helped us grow so much as a business and in turn we want to give back to the community and surrounding areas.  Our local businesses help one another, we encourage growth and success!! I love this Valley!!!”

LIB’S MARKET

“When we see repeat customers and people continuing to support us, as well as actively support our follow business owners, it validates the hours of hard work we put in and relationships we build together. Our communities become more tightly woven, and ultimately everyone’s lives are enriched further by those bonds and that common ground.”

BRANCH STREET COFFEE ROASTERS

“Shop Small to me is, and always has been, a movement. I was never a “chain” kind of person, and I would always look to find the great spots for food, drink, and handmade goods. It has always been a lifestyle for me. I would rather have a well-crafted item that lasts a lifetime than a cheaper alternative that is disposable after use. Perhaps that is what drives me to create things that are the top quality which can’t be found anywhere near us. While there is nothing wrong with going ‘big box,’ I always try and find the person in the community who can do the job, or find the products for me. I may pay a slightly higher fee, but I have leaned on some of my friends and local community shop owners to help find an item that is tailor-fit to me. I’m not oversold, and I have strengthened my relationship with them. These people often become my friends and acquaintances. My service at these places becomes more tailored to my needs as well. Consider a local sandwich shop; they learn my likes and dislikes, I develop a relationship with them and my enjoyment of that time increases over time as well. You can’t buy this kind of a relationship at a cookie-cutter chain. I also know that I am supporting several local jobs. These places often get their products from local sources, hire long-time local residents, and these small businesses support the school clubs and charities as well. Seen on a sign outside of Nova Coffee: I put my money where my house is. My son wanted to go to breakfast today. He knows that we are having to shut down Generations due to lack of local support, and he asked me if we can go to Bob Evans. I told him that Bob Evans is a huge chain with lots of stores across lots of states, but there are other small local shops that make breakfast as well. Maybe if we support those places, it will help them to stay open so they won’t have to close. It didn’t take long for him to agree that we should skip the chain, and head to LiBs for their Sunday brunch. After we ate, he proudly told me that his French Toast was way better than what he would have gotten if we had gone to Bob Evans. I couldn’t agree more. If we want to have these amazing small businesses, we need to actively seek out and support those who put their necks on the line to chase down a dream. Sometimes it may be a bit faster to zip through the drive-thru line, but I can almost guarantee that the personal service and higher quality product will be worth the extra minute it may take. It could be a lasting relationship that holds more value in the long run.”

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