The Second Half: Give the gift of buying local

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

Shopping season is upon us, and I have a new resolve this year: BUY LOCAL!

Living in Winnebago County, we have a surprising number of opportunities to buy local from a variety of area shop owners and independent proprietors.

“What’s the difference?” a neighbor asked. “Don’t we get tax revenue from Wal-Mart and such? They provide local jobs, too. Besides, I can get just about everything I need in one stop…and it’s cheap!”

“Hmmm…” I thought. “Tough argument.”

I try to speak brilliantly about almost any subject, and I really hate to lose a debate. So, before formulating an answer to my quarrelsome friend, I decided to get my facts straight. And I discovered while it isn’t always possible to purchase every need or want from a community business, there are compelling reasons to seek out local options first.

At the website, I found a helpful article outlining the following “Top 10 Reasons to Think Local—Buy Local—Be Local”:

1. Buy Local—Support yourself: When you buy from a locally-owned business, significantly more of your money is used to make purchases from other local businesses, service providers and farms, strengthening the economic base of the community. I know lots of farmers and small business owners, so I’m all about supporting them. Besides, if I do, they read my column—what goes around, comes around!

2. Support community groups: Local nonprofit organizations receive two to three times more support from small business owners than from large businesses. A good example is “local-boy-made-good” Daniel Arnold, founder of Road Ranger gas stations—visit his website at to learn how his business contributes to the community (and their gas is very often the lowest priced in my area).

3. Keep our community unique: One-of-a-kind businesses add a distinctive character to our community and benefit tourism. Back in my day, we visited Rockton and Rockford for the Wagon Wheel Resort and Charlotte’s Web—not to shop at the local Montgomery Ward.

4. Reduce environmental impact: Locally-owned businesses tend to set up shop in town rather than on the fringe, contributing less to sprawl, congestion, habitat loss and pollution. Take Edgebrook at Alpine and Highcrest roads—stable and unique, offering a boutique shopping, restaurant, service and business center set in a residential neighborhood for many years! Visit on the web at

5. Create more good jobs: Small, local businesses are the largest employer nationally and in our community, provide the most jobs to residents. Tim Storm of Rockton started in 1999, since creating about 50 new jobs in the area. In addition, publishes exclusive offers, online coupons and cash-back rebates from such biggies as Dell, Travelocity and Wal-Mart. Local business employs local folks and offers deals from national hotshots: a “two-fer”!

6. Get better service: I buy into the Cheers philosophy of shopping local: “I wanna go where everybody knows my name!” Test this by comparing the service you get from Akerman’s Shoes in Edgebrook with the sullen teen-ager at Foot Locker.

7. Invest in community: Local business owners live in this community, are less likely to leave, and are invested in the community’s future. In the Midtown District (corner of First Avenue and Seventh Street) is JustGoods, a fair-trade market that is a part of Fair Trade Rockford and Rockford Urban Ministries. Shopping here TOTALLY ROCKS! Talk about investing in our community, not to mention the human race—go to for lots about what they do and a virtual tour of the store, sort of a “shop-before-you-shop” benefit.

8. Put your taxes to good use: Local businesses in town centers require less infrastructure investment and make more efficient use of public services—nobody exemplifies this better than the downtown business owners in Rockford. Drive along State Street near the river and check out the historic, renovated and re-purposed shops and restaurants there. When debating local economics wears you out, stop by 211 E. State at Chocolat by Daniel. His website alone makes me weak in the knees! Check it out at

9. Buy what you want, not what someone wants you to buy: A marketplace of small businesses is the best way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long-term. Hubby says, “The locally-owned hardware stores (think Rockton Hardware or Nicholson’s) are better in service, stock and product knowledge than those big buy-everything-here places, and if they don’t have something, they get it for me!” ‘Nuf said.

10. Encourage local prosperity: In an increasingly homogenized world, entrepreneurs and skilled workers are more likely to invest and settle in communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind businesses and distinctive character.

My favorite newspaper offers a link to Winnebago Buy Local, whose mission is “to support and cultivate local independent businesses focused on transforming our local economy toward green jobs, sustainable industries and practices, and buying local first.” Find ’em here:

OK, let’s go shopping for Christmas and let’s buy local. More suggestions?

For jewelry gifts, I like Gem Shop on Main Street in Rockton and Jewelry Concepts in North Towne on Riverside, and for unique gifts, try Zazu’s in Roscoe or Studio 451 on North Main in Rockford.

In my Second Half, I’m trying hard to support locally-owned businesses and our area economy. That being said, I confess to ordering a couple of gift books through Amazon this year. Truthfully, if Books On Main were still operating in Rockton, I would have ordered them there. Progress, not perfection…at least I’m trying. Happy holiday shopping!

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the Dec. 1-7, 2010 issue

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