9 reasons to shop local
The dollars and sense of shopping at locally owned businesses
Reason 1: Sales tax sticks around
Most Tulsans realize that shopping locally keeps their sales tax dollars in the city, county and state — funding everything from local police and fire services to public education — but it’s likely that few understand the huge impact their daily shopping decisions have on their overall quality of life.
Like ripples from a rock tossed in a lake, choosing to shop locally has myriad impacts, both tangible and intangible, that go well beyond basic government services.
In Tulsa, sales tax accounts for nearly one third of the city’s revenue: an estimated $274 million in the 2018 budget. However, many online retailers without a physical presence in Oklahoma are not required by law to collect sales tax. Residents are supposed to report their online purchases when filing state income taxes, but in the past most have not, meaning local government continued to lose millions from out-of-state sales.
Fortunately, the Oklahoma Retail Protection Act of 2016 was a step in the right direction. The law allows Oklahoma to collect sales tax from out-of-state-retailers that have various affiliations with Oklahoma businesses. It also requires out-of-state retailers to notify customers by Feb. 1 of each year of how much they spent and remind them how much sales tax they should self-report.
Another bright spot: Starting March 1, online retail giant Amazon voluntarily began collecting local and statewide taxes on purchases.
According to Mike Kier, the City of Tulsa’s director of finance, online sales still translate into millions of dollars in lost sales tax revenue.
“This significant growth in online retail sales has happened over a period of time when there has been very modest growth in overall retail sales,” Kier says. “That puts more and more pressure on the brick-and-mortar side of things. And that loss in revenue can make running a government very challenging.”
Not only is it challenging for the government, it’s also challenging for Tulsa’s small business owners.
Reason 2: "You can’t get your bike fixed over the internet."
Tom Brown has owned and operated Tom’s Bicycles in Tulsa since 1994. Over the years, his business has suffered from the consumer shift to online retail.
“It’s getting harder and harder all the time to have a brick-and-mortar store,” Brown says. Tom’s has two locations: 6861 S. Peoria Ave. and 1506 E. 15th St.
While Brown has lost plenty of local sales to online merchants, he has also lost business from surrounding, smaller communities. “People used to come to Tulsa from surrounding cities and towns and drive around to do all of their shopping,” he says. “They’d stop in at the bike shop and buy a pair of socks or a pair of gloves or whatever they needed. That’s just not happening anymore, or it’s happening on a much smaller scale.”
According to Brown, local businesses are much more than just a source of sales tax revenue. They provide expertise, create community and advocate for local causes. “You can’t get your bike fixed over the internet,” he says.
Brown and his employees “pre-filter” the merchandise they sell, testing and researching all of the products, from tubes to socks, in order to offer the best quality to their customers.
Reason 3: Employ thy neighbor
Brown also employs six people, most of them full-time with health care and retirement benefits. Most have worked at the shop for at least 15 years. Each employee owns a house or rents, buys groceries and generally contributes to the local economy.
“We’re really trying to make it a profession, rather than a job,” Brown says. “So it really helps when you come into the store and buy anything. It helps those people that work for me. It helps me, too. It helps me pay them. It helps me provide all of the things they really need. I try to make sure they’re getting as much as I can possibly give.”
Reason 4: Re-investement in the community beyond dollars
Brown and his staff frequently volunteer outside the shop, too. “I’m going to two different large bike rides this weekend to offer mechanical support,” he says. “We spend a lot of time and money supporting local endeavors that not only promote cycling, but also help out the community. We have a pretty strong feeling that this is what we should be doing — giving back to the community.”
Their efforts provide secondary economic benefits. Brown and other local bike stores have long been champions of Tulsa’s trail system, working and communicating with relevant government officials and organizations to create, maintain and expand the city’s miles and miles of recreational trails. Their efforts have enhanced Tulsa’s livability for its inhabitants and added to its tourism appeal, benefiting the economy.
“There are people who come here just for … Tulsa Tough and the Tour de Tulsa,” Brown says. “They come to ride on River Parks. They come from all over the place.”
Source: American Independent Business Alliance
Reason 5: Local businesses give back
According to Kathy Duck, executive director of the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s Small Business Connection, it’s their connection to the community that makes small businesses so important.
“Working with local companies means your money is staying in this community to help it grow,” she says. “Tulsa’s small businesses really take pride in their city, and they work with community-based programs and charities and advocate for local efforts. This really just improves the overall quality of life in Tulsa.”
Marshall Brewing Co., 618 S. Wheeling Ave., is just a short ride from Brown’s midtown bike shop. Much like Brown, President and Brewmaster Eric Marshall strongly believes in giving back to the community and supporting other local businesses. The brewery’s bottles and cardboard boxes are locally sourced, and the company uses local people for its T-shirts, hats and other merchandise.
“We do a lot to support local organizations,” Marshall says. “We donate a lot of time, beer, tours and merchandise. It costs us money, but we feel it’s the right thing to do. We want to do our fair share to help grow the community, be a good partner, and help make Tulsa and Oklahoma better in general.”
Marshall chose to locate his business in the Kendall Whittier District, and he serves on the board of the Kendall Whittier Main Street Association.
The brewery is an anchor in this transitional neighborhood. “It’s been positive for us, and that’s part of our advocacy — continuing to promote this area,” Marshall says.
Reason 6: Knowing where the product comes from
The brewery’s investment in community also means knowing and understanding its clients, often on a personal level. The taproom is open three days a week and serves as a regular community gathering spot. Patrons can sample beers, ask questions and give feedback.
“People want to know the story,” Marshall says. “When people can come in and meet and know the people who make the product, it contributes to their quality of life. They spend their time here and get fresh beer and then go out and support the people who support us in terms of where they make decisions to go have dinner or a beer.”
There are some hard dollars and cents behind the local brewing industry, as well. In 2014, when there were half as many craft breweries as there are now, the Oklahoma Craft Brewing Industry had a $415.7 million economic impact in Oklahoma, according to a study published last year by University of Central Oklahoma economics professor Travis Roach. Broken down into drinking terms, that’s a $65.94 economic impact per 12-ounce serving — a pretty good return on your local drinking dollars.
Reason 7: "Keep It Local" perks
Bryce Bandy, co-founder of Keep It Local OK, started his company seven years ago to support and publicize local businesses. Keep It Local sells annual membership cards for $15, and local merchants, businesses and restaurants offer discounts and promotions to the cardholders. The company releases the cards Nov. 24 — Black Friday — and they’re good for the next 13 months. In Oklahoma, 257 businesses in 357 locations participate in the program. In Tulsa, 43 businesses participate in 49 locations. Bandy, an Oklahoma City resident, sees it as a great way to discover a city.
“There are a ton of places you can easily miss, great places in the Pearl District or Kendall Whittier that are just a little out of the way that you might not just stumble on,” Bandy says.
Ashley Daly has owned Retro Den with Ashley Palmer for nearly five years. The store joined the Keep It Local OK campaign after talking to Bandy and seeing the other like-minded businesses participating in the program.
“As a shop owner, I love seeing our customers at the grocery store or at my daughter’s school,” Daly says. “Our customers become our friends. I think there’s a special energy that’s created when you have people around you that are fully engaged in their lives — we’re all doing what we’re passionate about and making our community a better place.”
Reason 8: Put your money where your mouth is
Bandy suggests customers should shift their thinking into seeing shopping local as an investment in the community. “(By spending money with local business owners) you’re rewarding these people for taking a chance on opening a business,” he says. “Spend some money with them. It may be a little more, or it may not be, but look at it as investing in your community and your family.”
Taking advantage of this opportunity might have a welcome side effect for all Tulsans. “Usually those entrepreneurial people are also the ones who want to get involved in the community,” Bandy says. “They’re more likely to help push the city forward and make it a cooler place.”
Nov. 25 is Small Business Saturday.
American Express started the concept in 2010. It’s a good opportunity to get to know local merchants, many of whom will offer discounts and promotions, and a good chance to get a jump on your holiday shopping. Locally, more information can be found at facebook.com/tulsasmallbusinessconnection.
Reason 9: Local businesses support other local businesses
The typical American family spends over $800 on Christmas, with one-third of that spent on clothing and accessories for women, men and children. According to the Tulsa Regional Chamber, that totals $73 million in the holiday season in Tulsa.
“Both large stores (department or discount stores) and smaller stores (franchises and proprietorships) employ salespeople, buy resources locally and pay sales and property taxes,” says Bob Ball, director of economic research for the Tulsa Regional Chamber in its “The Chamber Report.”
Ball says smaller specialty stores require 930 employees to accommodate the holiday shopping rush. Those 930 store employees support the employment of 181 in local supplier operations.
“In the specialty store, each dollar earned by a direct retail employee supports the earning of 48 cents by workers in supplier operations,” Ball says. “In the large department store, each dollar earned supports the earning of 20 cents by suppliers’ workers,” because many rely on corporate arrangements with suppliers for goods and services.
Restaurateur Libby Billings strives to think local when it comes to sourcing product for her three downtown restaurants. Sure, things like avocados and agave can’t be grown locally, but at Elote, Billings averages about 28 percent locally purchased items.
“When you buy food locally it actually tastes better,” Billings says, citing flavorless Mexican-grown tomatoes picked weeks before they arrive on Tulsa tables. “I purchase all my tomatoes from Eden Veggies out of Broken Arrow. They are harvested the day before they are delivered to my restaurants to be served. They just taste better.”
While flavor has a lot to do with Billings’ choices, there are other reasons she does business with local and Oklahoma-based businesses, too.
“I see the business owners and their employees dining at my restaurants all the time,” she says. “They all know I can choose to purchase from a big online company or out-of-state providers, but I choose them and they show me support by choosing me, too.”
Billings reiterates her feelings of shopping at local businesses with a big diagram at Elote.
Editor’s note: Thank you to Libby Billings and Elote for allowing us to recreate the in-store diagram here.