The bottom line's more than dollars - Keith Roulston editorial
Recently I ran into a headache getting a prescription renewed by my city-based specialist. I’d called my doctor’s office well in advance but then the bureaucratic runaround began.
As doctors increasingly do these days, his staff said my pharmacist would have to send a fax requesting the renewal. The problem was, when he did, nobody replied. Days went by and my supply of medication kept diminishing. My local pharmacist recontacted the doctor but still the new prescription didn’t come through.
Finally I called the doctor’s office in desperation, saying I had taken my last pill, and eventually the fax arrived securing my supply for the next few months.
While I was going through this ordeal, I had the comfort of knowing my local pharmacist was on my side. It’s an example of what I call “collateral benefit”. That’s the opposite of the phrase “collateral damage”, which describes the destruction that can happen to uninvolved bystanders while armies concentrate on an attack.
Collateral benefit is why I choose to shop in my own community whenever possible – because there are rewards that go beyond the obvious. These days many shoppers focus on one goal – saving a few dollars here or there, or enjoying the greater variety offered by a large chain of stores, or even more frequently, online retailers. They may save money or have more variety to choose from, but they won’t have that person who knows them personally and will make the extra effort required to help them in their time of need because they care.
It’s something we’ve lost in our small towns and villages in the past few decades as people drove farther to shop at Walmart or large grocery chains instead of local stores. Recently I was glancing through an old history of the village where I grew up. Among the 1,000 people who lived there at the time there was a village council, a school board for the elementary school and one for the high school. There were familiar faces in all three photos – the same people who sold us our groceries, hardware, clothing and furniture.
As a kid, I was resentful of these people who I saw as high and mighty rich people. It was only later, when I ran a newspaper in a different town, that I realized these businesspeople were just like the rest of us – trying to get by. But they also cared enough about their community to volunteer on council or the school boards.
Much has changed since then, of course. The high school is gone, the elementary school is run by a remote board that covers two counties and the municipality was amalgamated with three others and the council abolished. There also aren’t clothing and furniture stores – we killed them off by seeking bargains elsewhere without thinking of the collateral damage. In that once-thriving town, you can’t even buy groceries anymore.
In this time of isolating and staying at home, this Christmas even more shopping is likely to be done with online retailers like Amazon – convenient for shoppers and perhaps even cost saving, but causing collateral damage in the local community. This newspaper is an example of collateral benefit. Local retailers trying to get information out to potential shoppers buy advertising which helps The Citizen pay its bills. (Amazon doesn’t buy ads in The Citizen. It simply puts your money in Seattle banks.) The newspaper, in turn, publicizes the work of local service clubs and churches and helps make the community a richer place to live.
There are still collateral benefits all around us, even if we have devastated our local retailers. It’s been fascinating to watch the creativity local service clubs have managed after the pandemic shut down their regular barbecues and fish fries. They’ve found ways to still serve their meals. And besides getting a tasty meal, those attending create collateral benefit because the money the service clubs raise will be invested right back into the community, making it a better place to live – something that won’t happen if people drive to the city for dinner.
There have been big holes left in our lives this year because the pandemic made it impossible to hold well-attended events like fairs or the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association Reunion. The latter, for instance, not only brings thousands to Blyth, but boosts the sales of local stores and restaurants and even puts extra cash in the hands of residents because of yard sales.
And then there’s the case of the Blyth Festival, sadly missed this year. Not only does it bring dozens of actors and technicians to town, but it also fills local hotel rooms and restaurants. Once thought of as a nice little addition to a healthy downtown in the 1970s, it’s become the reason many of today’s shops are even here.
So think of all the collateral benefits the dollars that you spend can buy. It makes buying local seem a huge bargain.