Keeping it local is basic building block for community
By Jeff Simms
Gone are the days when it was just the beginning of the holiday shopping season, or even the biggest U.S. shopping day of the year. Black Friday, the oddly doomsday-esque moniker for the day after Thanksgiving, is a global event — as retailers in the U.S. and, now, worldwide invite the shrewdest of consumers to camp out and then wait in line (or online) while searching for the best bargain of them all.
But for Beacon — a city without a shopping mall that’s largely bereft of chain retailers as well — the biggest shopping event on the planet is simply another day to buy local. And while the “buy local” credo has become somewhat overused in recent years as well, for Beacon’s merchants, it represents everything from a more authentic shopping experience to the most basic of building blocks for a growing community.
“It’s all so intertwined,” says Mei Ying So, who owns Artisan Wines on Main Street in Beacon along with her husband, Tim Buzinski. “When you buy something in Beacon, it affects the people and the other merchants who live here.”
By now, most shoppers are aware of the economic benefits of buying local. Research shows that every dollar spent at an independent business returns several more times to the local economy, ultimately sustaining not just one business, but many.
“We want people to stay in town, because our money stays here too,” concurs Katy Behney, co-owner of the Mountain Tops outdoor outfitter and Bank Square, Beacon’s Main Street coffeehouse.
In addition to its economic benefits, merchants in Beacon say that the local shopping experience also lends a more personal touch, especially during this highly commercialized time of the year.
“If I buy you a gift at the mall, you can go buy the same gift yourself,” said Brenda Murnane, who owns Beacon Bath & Bubble. “With something that’s handcrafted, you can meet the person who made it with their own two hands. It’s not a mystery item you just picked off a shelf.”
In business for nine years in Beacon, Murnane’s shop offers a unique combination of handmade (all on the premises) bath and soap products along with a colorful
selection of vintage (the brands are vintage; the products are new) sodas and candies.
“This is a feel-good store, and it’s a feel-good kind of action for the shopper because they’re supporting a person, not a company,” she said.
On the west end of Main Street, customers at Hudson Beach Glass can pick up glassware with a particularly local flavor. One item, a handmade serving dish, displays the topography of the Hudson Valley, with the Hudson River running distinctly through the middle of the tray.
“We’re actually one-step manufacturing. It’s not that we’re just buying products from elsewhere in the U.S.; we’re actually making it here in Beacon,” said Michael Benzer, one of the owners of Hudson Beach Glass.
It’s also not lost on the city’s merchants — as part of their appreciation of all things local — that Beacon once was not very shopping-friendly.
“We both grew up here,” said Behney, the Mountain Tops owner, referring to her husband and business partner, Buddy, “so we remember what it was like when there wasn’t any shopping and people didn’t feel comfortable walking down Main Street. Now, the more businesses that are open, the more walkable Main Street becomes.”
Perhaps more than anything, Beacon shopkeepers said that buying local helps create a connection — one that, when nurtured over time, can grow into a community.
“For us, it’s how we stay connected,” said Behney. “When people come in and out of here, we know them. We’ve been putting shoes on their kids’ feet as they’ve grown up.”
That bond between retailer and consumer, however, isn’t restricted to tangible items one can pick up and purchase. In fact, it may be even more pronounced in local shops that encourage customers to invest in themselves.
“Local is everything to me,” said Juliet Harvey, who owns Beacon Pilates. “I’m providing a service for people, and I hope it makes some kind of change in their life. That connection is very personal for me. It’s not just seeing them for an hour; it’s affecting their lives. I feel a huge sense of community in my studio.”
So, as the holiday shopping season officially commences today, it may be worthwhile for shoppers and sellers both to pause and consider all of the benefits of Beacon’s “shop local” economy.
“We’ve gotten to know so many people, and this time of year it really comes home — how connected we are with people on an emotional level,” said Mei Ying So, the Artisan Wines co-owner. “It’s heartening to know that people come to us year after year, because we’re all in this together.”