Alexandria’s independent bookstores, like the ones highlighted on page 5, are hopeful reminders of local entrepreneurial spirit. The Book Bank is 11 years old, while Already Read Used Books opened in 2006; both have survived and even thrived through a recession. These independent stores exist not only because there’s a market for their products, but because some Alexandrians make the deliberate decision to shop there.
The statistic is often cited: About 90 percent of Alexandria’s businesses have less than 20 employees. Shopping at local, independent stores is a trendy notion that could be practiced more often. The convenience of Internet shopping and the big box retailers that buy in bulk and can afford to charge less could threaten the backbone of Alexandria’s economy if patrons don’t frequent the local stores that make their city unique.
Beyond the city’s Buy Local campaign, boosting the local economy causes a change in customer mentality. Here are some advantages to shopping locally that cannot be replicated on the Internet or in big box stores.
Connect with your community. There are few places homier than St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub in Del Ray and Misha’s in Old Town. The independent coffee shops are more than just businesses — they’re community centers. As Alexandria has urbanized and become more walkable, places like these become not just somewhere to spend money, but a destination to share ideas and engage with the people around you. With local discourse comes civic engagement, and a more cohesive community whose city is representative of its residents. All this can come out of frequenting the local coffee shop.
Turn errands into exercise. It’s a constant claim by every busy Washington-area resident: “There isn’t enough time in the day to do everything I want to.” Rather than shopping on the Internet or driving to a mall, walk, run or take your bike to do your shopping. Combining productivity with exercise kills two birds with one stone and helps local retailers stay in business.
Keep your taxes low. Giving independent businesses your patronage keeps more money circulating locally than buying goods from local big box stores, which pay taxes here but send profits out of Alexandria, to their headquarters. Further, the city does not benefit from online purchases at all. The more money naturally circulating in Alexandria, the less likely the necessity for public officials to raise taxes.
Of course, buying locally cannot supplant shopping on the Internet and at giant retailers, but altering habits slightly can make a large difference if enough people buy in.