Monday, October 26, 2009

Shop Independently Owned Businesses

This past Saturday was International Day of Climate Action. The purpose of this day was to raise awareness of the climate change happening around the world and to introduce the number 350 to people. 350 is the most important number in the world and it's what scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But don't think of 350 as simply a number because it's really more like a symbol of what we need to do as a planet.

Parts per million is simply a way of measuring the concentration of different gases, and means the ratio of the number of carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules to all of the molecules in the atmosphere. We need CO2 in our atmosphere because without some of it and other greenhouse gases, our planet would be way too cold for us to live on. It's a delicate balance this CO2 stuff. We need some, but not too much or problems happen like they are today.

According to, our atmosphere contained 275 parts per million until about 200 years ago when things started to change. All of sudden we started burning coal, gas, and oil to produce energy and goods and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere started to rise. We were taking millions of years worth of natural resources that had been stored underground and releasing it into the atmosphere. Fast forward 200 years and today there are 390 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere and this number is rising. So the number is higher, but is it too high? Scientists say yes and they claim that today's climate change is the effect of this high number. We need to lower this number to 350 to get things back in balance.

Lots of people gathered on Saturday and the number 350 was spread all over the world. More people than ever were made aware of this number and its impact, and hopefully they are making changes in their lives to help reduce this number. While Mom and I viewed pictures of celebrations, listened to reports, and watched video highlights all centered on 350, there was another 350 that we were introduced to. This other 350 is something we had thought about but hadn't realized a movement was started to do something about it. Do you know about this other 350?

The 3/50 project is very different from the 350 project. Where the 350 project raises awareness about CO2 levels in the atmosphere and changes you can make to help lower this number, the 3/50 project raises awareness about shopping independently owned businesses to help the economy. Started just seven months ago, this movement has been slow to catch on but is starting to gain momentum.

The 3/50 project's motto is "Saving the brick and mortars our nation is built on". They ask the question "What three independently owned businesses would you miss if they disappeared?" Mom started to think about this and the more she did, the more she realized that things have really changed since she was a child.

Back in the day, say the 1970's, you shopped for groceries at an independent grocery store or at a local chain grocery store. You bought food, paper goods, cleaning supplies, etc. at the grocery store. This is very similiar to today except you probably shop for these items at a big chain store. Even our local grocery stores, Jewel and Dominick's, were acquired by large corporations a few years ago.

If you needed medicine, you visited a pharmacy that was independently owned. You knew the pharmacist and probably spoke to him each time you visited his store. This was the case in Mom's neighborhood. The pharmacy was on busy corner in the neighborhood and it was really the only place to go to buy your medical needs. Dad even worked at this pharmacy when he was in high school. Despite the fact that Walgreens started in Illinois, not too far from Chicago, Mom cannot remember going to a Walgreens until the 1980's.

When you wanted to eat out, which wasn't very often, you dined at an independently owned restaurant. There were many in Mom's neighborhood, including diners, pizza parlors, and taverns. In the 1970's McDonald's even moved in the neighborhood, but you only went there occasionally. Mom says it was a big deal to go there and back then they didn't have drive thrus. Huh? No drive thrus? I'm glad I wasn't around back then.

The bottom line is that every time you needed something, be it a product or service, you shopped at independently owned businesses because that really was your only option. Today the number of these businesses is rapidly dwindling. Is this because the large corporate stores and big box stores moved in forcing the little guys out? Yes and no. Why did people stop shopping at the independently owned stores and taking all their business to the big guys? Better product selection? Better prices? Convenience? All of the above? Yes and no. There really is no single answer.

Back to the 3/50 project. The 3 is for the question about the 3 stores disappearing, but what is the 50 all about? According to the 3/50 project website, if half the employed population spent $50 each month in locally owned independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. That's a lot of money! That would really help the economy and keep independent businesses in business.

But there's another number to this project and that's 68. For every $100 spent in locally independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spend your money at a chain store, only $43 stays local and if you shop online nothing goes to the community. This is really eye opening and again you can see how this affects local economies. This idea conflicts with what we have been taught about shopping online and how it is better for the environment to do so, but this model only really works when there is no alternative.

It's time to really think about what you buy and where you buy it. Let's say you want to buy a book. Where do you shop? What about electronics? Shampoo? Wrapping paper? School supplies? Dog food? Light bulbs? Toilet paper? Jeans? I'm betting that most of us buy these items at the big stores like Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart, Office Max, PetSmart, Home Depot, and Old Navy.

So what to do? We live in the suburbs where there are hardly any independently owned stores in which to buy your day to day needs. There are some local grocers and Mom does shop them, but for the most part if you need what you need you go to the big guys. But there are ways to support local businesses aside from shopping. Most dry cleaners are independently owned. That's a good thing. Mom and Dad both get their hair cut at independently owned salons. Dad gets the cars washed at place that is independent. I think you guys get the idea. There are ways to spend money at independently owned businesses without shopping.

But this movement is really about shopping independently owned businesses. It's not about not shopping at the big guys but about committing $50 each month that you normally spend at the big guys and shopping at the independently owned businesses. You may have to go out of your way to find these little guys, but hopefully they are out there. And they will remain out there if you shop them. Pick 3, spend 50, and save your local economy.

This movement is about raising awareness of the need for independent businesses and how vital they are to our local communities. Without these little guys our foundation is unstable. Like the motto says, these stores are what are nation is built on. Without a stable foundation, a building will collapse. Without a stable economy, our communities will collapse. Both 350 projects are vital and more important today than ever before. These projects need us to get involved, spread the word, and take actions to ensure the future. Think 350 and 3/50 and be part of the change.


Oakley and Swisher said...

Thanks for this informative post. Our mom tries her best to try and do her part for the planet and tries to get her friends and family to do some stuff too. We knew about 350 but not the 3/50 it seems like something simple enough that if more people are informed they can do their best to help. Great post!

Lots of Licks--
Oak and Swish

Pearl said...

Hi Stubby! Great post!
We LOVE independent and local businesses! They really are the best. Thanks for letting us know about 350 & 3/50!

Stubby said...

Hi Oakley & Swisher! I'm so glad your mom tries to do her best for the planet and that she spreads the word. Getting everyone involved is the best way to do the right thing.

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hi Pearly Poo! I knew you would love this post. You must have lots of independent businesses down in Oklahoma that you can shop. Lucky you Pearl.

Stubby xoxo

dw said...

I'm glad you had a chance to watch some of the celebrations and all this past Saturday. I was curled up studying. Thanks for all the info! Once again, you rock, Stubby!

Stubby said...

Hi dw! I'm so glad you were studying this weekend. Mom swears that some of her students never study on the weekend and then come to her with excuses about why they didn't.

I'm sure you shop independently owned stores because you live in the city. Keep shopping them and spreading the word.

Stubby xoxo

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