What is “local”?

What is “local”?

Artwork by local Lander artist Dannine Donoho of Snow Deep Designs

This time of year, with the holidays upon us, we’re driven to think of all things close to home. There’s no shortage of messaging to “shop local” and “support the local economy,” etc. (Small Business Saturday is just around the corner, after all, on Saturday, November 25.) But what does all the buzz around spending money locally really mean?

Local—and the newer term, hyperlocal—tend to isolate economies in terms of specific cities, towns, and communities. Still, when your county is bigger than eight states in the union, “local” tends to take on a different meaning. Very little is actually produced in the way of consumer goods here in Wyoming. For my purposes, I consider food and other items produced in Fremont County to be hyperlocal, and purchases from just about anywhere in the Intermountain West to be local.

In my past life as a builder of custom homes, I saw increased interest over time in the use of local and reclaimed materials. Folks have come to value the stories behind the materials in their homes, and the closer they’re sourced, the better. Here in Lander, I’ve seen many retail spaces follow the national trend of losing business to online sales—but even so, we have a strong and growing presence of local artisans, ranchers, farmers, and food purveyors bringing their goods to market in spaces like the Farmer’s Market, craft fairs, and other local events.

And yet: even these folks have to package and create their goods using materials sourced from beyond city limits. I always love attending Art in the Afternoon, for example, but how many of the artisans there aren’t buying supplies on Amazon or from some other major retailer? When you start to drill down, it’s easy to see how complicated the notion of “local” can become.

So, how can we spend our money so that it has the most benefit to our local economy without making ourselves crazy? For me, it boils down to a few questions:

  1. How can I support the businesses that support the community? (This is a big one for me!)
    When I see folks around town wearing shirts from local races and events, I check out the logos on the back—the same goes for event posters I see tacked up on bulletin boards at local businesses. Those sponsors are putting funds back into this town and supporting events that benefit nonprofits and other worthy causes. I try to be thoughtful about that. Should I drive to Salt Lake City or Denver to buy a car or truck, or can I choose to spend my dollars at Fremont Toyota, who bring us the amazing concert series of Lander Live and the much-loved Beer Fest (where we consume copious amounts of regional beer) every summer?
  2. Is it most convenient to buy in town?
    I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years at Lander’s lumber and hardware stores. When they don’t have something I need, I order it through them because it’s simply the most convenient option. Building materials are often best seen before purchased, and online sales can’t replace the value of holding a product in your hand. When I purchase an appliance at Gamble’s, I know their maintenance folks will be on hand quickly if I have a problem or need a repair. I don’t necessarily get that kind of service if I find something at a big box store in Casper.
  3. Is it a big enough purchase to have an impact for a local retailer?
    I love supporting the bike shops in town when my family needs to make a two-wheeled purchase. These sales make a real difference for the shop owners, and that is more valuable to me than the money I might save on a purchase from a big box store while traveling.
  4. With a little effort, can I make this purchase a win for a local retailer?
    Sure, it’s simple and convenient to order clothes or shoes online, but I can often save on shipping (with the added bonus of saying hello to friends) if I go into one of the shops on Main Street—even if I’m asking them to special order something they don’t keep in stock. In this way, I’m knitting my spending back into the community, and little purchases like this add up.

These are the questions I’m asking myself around the concept of our local economy. So, I’m curious: what does “local” mean to you? How do you support businesses of Lander and Fremont County? Share in the comments below.

Checkout our Links page for more information about how to support LOCAL


10 Replies to “What is “local”?”

  1. Hey Trey, nice post! I agree with the points you made and even thought of some before I went on to read them. One of my favorite parts about Lander is that folks consciously think about supporting local businesses. As a business owner I also saw businesses supporting other businesses which was neat to see! Thank you for the post, I look forward to reading more!

  2. Exceptional post, Trey. Very thoughtful and well written.

    You have summed up the concept of local very well and how important it is to support the community in which we live. I hope others will take the time to not only read this article but put your thoughtful suggestions into action.

  3. Well done Trey. Your first point on supporting those who support you is my favorite. Toyota may be a world giant, but they o something for Lander and that should be supported in turn.There are other large companies in Lander don’t give back to the community, and thus don’t get my support. I believe those big entities have a responsibility to help the community out and they will get my help for doing so.

  4. Nice initial blog, Trey.

    Regarding buying local, that can be a tough one at times. Of course, we should all buy local when we can but there are times when we can’t or shouldn’t. An obvious time when we can’t is when what we need can’t be found locally nor can it be ordered and received by a local business during the window we need it. One time when we shouldn’t is when it doesn’t make good financial sense to do so.

    If I see the exact same product online as I do locally and it’s 40% cheaper, it might not make sense (depending on your financial situation) to buy it locally. When the price difference between buying online and buying locally is a little closer, local businesses should, by and large, be more seriously considered to buy from, especially if they add something to the value of the purchase. An example of a good value-add that local businesses can include (that also costs them little) is good customer service.

    I had a bad experience with a local business on Main Street in Lander a few years ago. I asked them to order something for me despite the fact I could buy it cheaper online because I believe in buying Local First. However, the business never did place the order despite the fact they said they would. Consequently, I will never patronize that business again and will either buy from a similar business in Riverton or Casper if I just happen to be there or I will buy what I wanted online if the need is more immediate. Good customer service is absolutely critical when giving someone an additional, possibly key, reason to buy locally. Other value-adds could just be being friendly to the customers. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people.

    In the end, my point is if a business on main street can’t be as competitive, pricewise, as someplace online is, they’ve got to do something to give people a reason to make the trip to their store besides relying on the fact they’re a “local business.” Value-adds are a critical way to do that.

    1. John, I agree, you have to come to the table w/ ridiculously good customer service. Especially if you want to command a high price. Things are often cheaper elsewhere, but elsewhere doesn’t contribute to the local economy in any meaningful way. Often it is about effort. Effort on the part of the consumer and on the part of the provider or merchant. Thanks for commenting!

    1. Yes, but…how do we keep those empty bottles out of the landfill? Lots of us would like an alternative now that the waste disposal we support with tax dollars is no longer recycling glass.

  5. Very well said Trey. It is local characters like you always giving back to our community that make Landiego such a special place. Thanks for the meaningful insights and positive focus. Proud to call Lander home and keep our dollars here as best we can.

  6. Things are ‘not always’ cheaper on line.
    This is a modern ‘urban myth’ that is joyfully propelled by Amazon. Why is it propelled? Because it’s free advertising!
    Everyone is participating, even Main Street Business who feel as though that Company is taking a ‘bite’ out of their business. Simply put, Amazon only represents 10% of the retail market. 90% of all purchases are from all the other retail sources.
    We don’t place an order with ANY vendors until we can assess our retail price. Amazon is not the ominous competitor that we have all given it credit for. Perceptions are one thing but Facts are another.
    Many Small businesses offer a valuable service to the product and to our
    Community. Many of our local small business offers a guarantee beyond what the distributors or Maker will, why? Because we place large orders and represent the various Companies in a valuable market place.
    Just like a Building Contractor has more power over Contractors who want future work. Any homeowner knows this, some contractors only work for a builder.. typically the diy Guy has no future projects!
    I believe people are convinced that they save money purchasing on line more often than its true. I think they are hurting themselves and it has come home to roost, by diminishing donations around the community from Small Business. Money that is spent locally circulates 6 or 7 times where as Money spent or sent directly outside the County never returns.
    I don’t know what the answer is for Wyoming’s struggling economic issues anymore than other business owners, but I know that we shouldn’t look for false excuses or waste efforts blaming competitors or online sales now that the sales tax equality has been settled . Let’s move forward, help each other out when possible and build and plan a future together! I don’t think anyone will ever have an epitaph that says ,
    We will all remember John,
    ‘He bought a lot online’

  7. I definitely think about your first two points when I look to buy. I also have a general rule that as long as the local price is within 20% then I don’t have any temptation to shop on line or go out of town. Thanks for bringing this issue up, and supporting our community. Looking local first is always a great idea!

Leave a Reply