Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Susan Eisenberg never gave much thought to the effects of her shopping habits on friends and neighbors.
"There was really no sense of community when I lived there," she says.
Seven years later, the Ashland resident says she goes out of her way to purchase gifts and other consumer goods — locally made, if possible — from locally owned retailers. Her plan to make bracelets and necklaces for friends this holiday season took her to Dancing Beads, owned and operated in Medford.
"I want my money to stay here," says Eisenberg. "I want my community to survive."
Most shoppers know intuitively that keeping dollars close to home supports their local economy, but Thrive, a business-advocacy and economic-development group, spells it out.
For every $1 spent at a locally owned business, 45 cents is reinvested in the community. Only 15 cents of the same $1 spent at a nonlocal chain stays here.
Locally owned companies reinvest in other local operations: banks, accountants, media companies and printers, for example. These enterprises do yet more business locally, creating a multiplier effect.
"What we're doing above and beyond that is really building community," says Wendy Siporen, executive director of Thrive, based in Ashland with 175 members throughout Jackson and Josephine counties.
Small, locally owned businesses provide the largest share of net new jobs generated each year, according to Thrive's website, www.buylocalrogue.org. They also provide the most stable employment opportunities in a community, being less likely to move during hard economic times.
Small, local businesses also make the largest charitable contributions per employee ($789), according to an Oregon study, compared with $172 for medium-sized firms and $334 for large firms, which tend to give toward causes where they are headquartered.
"I think people are becoming more and more aware of their impact and are paying attention," says Emily Zobel, a maker of all-natural soaps who owns Emz Blendz, a retail store in Ashland. "I would not be able to survive without the locals."
Fifteen years since Zobel started making all-natural soaps in her garage as a hobby, her business is a prime example of a place where people can buy locally made goods at a locally owned store — and direct from the manufacturer to boot.
"Lots of people drive from Medford," says Zobel. "You really get an experience to actually touch, feel, smell."
Buying direct not only lets producers reap a higher percentage of the selling price; it reassures customers of quality, manufacturing conditions, even environmental impact, says Siporen. While Thrive attests that customer service generally is better at locally owned businesses, where employees tend to have product-specific expertise, there's no better testimonial, says Siporen, than from the person who made the item.
"The shopping experience is different, and I think that's a good thing," says Siporen, who recently purchased locally made beeswax candles, handmade napkins and fingerless hand warmers fashioned from recycled sweaters — among other "super unique" gift items for family and friends — at an area craft fair.
"You're putting more thought into it and telling (the recipients) that they're special, too."
A broader array of product choices await at small, locally owned businesses, whose inventories more likely reflect the community's needs and interests, rather than nationwide sales strategies, according to Thrive.
Exceeding her 2012 sales goals by August, Dancing Beads owner Carol Garfield has a bright outlook on the holiday season. Her East Main Street store is a "destination" for crafters who make their own gifts. Shopping with her, customers also benefit from Garfield's instructions and explanations for beading.
"They like to shop with me because they're missing the interaction."
Eisenberg spent nearly an hour taking Garfield's suggestions, discussing past projects and admiring fancy glass beads made locally with a technique known as lampworking. The same artisans teach classes for Dancing Beads, a sales and marketing strategy often missing from corporate craft-supply stores.
"You can go to a big store and buy what I sell," says Garfield. "There is a great deal of competition with the Internet."
After expending several years of effort on successful, nationwide Internet sales, Garfield decided to scale back and refocus on the Rogue Valley. A Web designer, Garfield says it's a bit of an "urban legend" that the Internet is the best way to build a business.
"You can continue to support yourself just by making local efforts."
Garfield uses Facebook, Twitter, blogs and email to communicate with local customers, most of them women between 40 and 60. And when Garfield rolls out a new website, it will furnish education on beads and beading, not a sales platform.
"I'm not slick," she says. "I'm just a little bead shop in Southern Oregon, but something's working."
Like a strand of beads, the economy's local, regional and domestic facets are linked. So shoppers also should strive to purchase goods made in their home state or elsewhere stateside before imports, says Siporen.
"There's certain people (who are) going to want ... the mass-produced item," she says. "You can do a little more research and support made in America."
That "pendulum" is starting to swing back toward American shores since the loss of middle-class manufacturing jobs, says Scott Keith, owner of Northwest Outdoor Store in Medford. Customers ask at least weekly which of the store's products are made in the United States, he says. A decade ago, when Keith managed Medford's McKenzie Outfitters store, the same conversation would crop up every few months.
"Customers are getting kind of tired of stores stocked with things only made in China."
So his inventory is about 10 percent domestically manufactured, says Keith, compared with the .5 percent at a typical chain store. He says he makes a point of choosing products made in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and, when possible, the Rogue Valley. He cites Pak-Lite flashlights, Sunday Afternoons hats and Sawyer paddles and oars.
"It depends on how far you want that word 'local' to reach."
Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or firstname.lastname@example.org.