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Why we should still patronise our local stores and services?

In response to your editorial: Is it an occasion to celebrate or commiserate?- February 18, 2017

Dear Editor, Why we should still patronise our local stores and services? Well, there are many excellent reasons, essential reasons: community reasons.

But first we need to change some of our terminology to highlight not scale but quality and care.

Its not the cost – many times a small store or service provider cannot match the cost.

But there is something else as well that we are given by many (not all) local businesses; a bonus and yet it is our lifeblood: service, thoughtfulness, thinking outside the square, connection and friendship - reflections of sound community values that enrich the locals – a mutual benefit on more than the merely transactional level.

It enables the smaller stores to NOT compete with the chain stores, but stay uniquely community businesses, servicing a niche and providing something that holds our community together. It is like a rope. We can do without a few strands (especially when these big stores add in a few strands as well, such as jobs and product range, charity support and being a drawcard that results in people coming to our town - to spend and to experience our town’s breadth). But there is a point where the rope is too thin- too much money goes out; too much individuality and community character disappears; too little respect for the locals and their lives is engendered.

It is that same old balancing act – value over money; people over profit. The community expresses its VALUES when it shops as much as it does when it gets involved, volunteers, celebrates and surges with complaint. Over time we will notice the real thickness of the rope that holds us as a community: the care, the commonalities, the commitment to a sound and vital future with a REAL local character.

If the big stores contribute more than they take; if they reflect our values in community support and character (as much as they can – such as friendliness and service) then they have a place here. But if they take off more strands than they add, then we are in trouble of becoming merely another retail destination. NONE of the community meetings held by Council, or organisations such as those campaigning for a Performance/Arts Centre, expressed a wish to do this or be this. Environment and lifestyle are the recurring themes and values.

When council agrees to these DA applications are they aware they are shaping and re-shaping the community? What rights have we given them to do that? What responsibilities are they demonstrating? When we shop we are demonstrating our values in the community, too.

It is easy to think in generalities like ’jobs’ and progress’ and ‘commercial viability’, but it is the specifics that the community notices – their day to day experience of the changes – short and long term.

At last social impact is going to be part of the conversation in policies with Council, but even that is too esoteric. It is community impact that needs to be taken into account: long-term, holistic, and inclusive.

Sure, let’s welcome the input of these stores and their benefits, and do not begrudge them their presence now they are here, but let’s be aware of the balance and their commitment to our community, and support them in like kind, as they do us. Sue Mackenzie


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