Sayings like “small/local business and restaurants are the beating heart of life in the United States” get thrown around fairly often. As our dependence on bulk suppliers and national chains grows, the weight small businesses must carry can become less and less noticeable to the untrained eye. At the surface level, we want to see local stores and restaurants, we want our neighbors and community members to thrive in their ventures. Digging a little deeper, our dependence on those small businesses is becoming more and more apparent.
Data collected by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) shows that a majority of businesses in the U.S. are small businesses. A 51–49 majority? Perhaps a 55–45 majority? More like a 99.9–0.01 majority. Furthermore, studies conducted by the SBA found that of any given $100 spent at local businesses, $68 stays with and is spent back into the community. Independent retailers return more than 3x more money per sale back into the community compared to national chain retailers; independent restaurants returning more than twice the money per sale than their national chain counterparts.
When working in food service-related industries, investing in and partnering with local restaurants shows a positive domino effect for everyone involved. Local restaurants are much more likely to seek out locally sourced foods and partner with local suppliers. The money being spent back into the community provides opportunities for the said community to improve and evolve, attracting more and more prospective local businesses to set up shop in their community. As the general masses become increasingly numb to the impersonal advertising of large corporations, partnering with local restaurants can also drive customer loyalty and build brand awareness.
Cindy Donaldson, CEO of Red Barn Consulting describes how old Northeastern mill towns exemplify the importance of local business in a community. Donaldson states “A factory closes, putting a large chunk of the population of that town on the unemployment rolls. They leave the town in search of new work, the housing market is affected, the local grand list is lowered so less tax money is flowing, which in turn affects the social services and schools. A once-thriving community can become a ghost town quickly. Family businesses — especially small family businesses — matter.” (source)
Passing up opportunities to work with local restaurants and businesses can not only hurt the community as a whole, but it can rob customers of a slice of local culture and senses of community. Oftentimes, we fail to see the impact of our local businesses before it’s too late. The rippling effects of a local restaurant closing its doors can be compared to a newly formed gap in a complex food web, both ecosystems become more and more fragile and their collapse can be devastating.