pay it forward: how shopping small reaps big rewards for the local community

In 2011, the U.S. Senate officially recognized Small Business Saturday with legislation affirming that $68 of every $100 spent locally "returns to the community through local taxes, payroll and other expenditures."
We all know that shopping small is good for the local community, but what are the real and tangible benefits behind the movement? A closer look reveals how that $68 feeds our region in ways both obvious and subtle when we choose to skip Black Friday (and Thursday) and shop small this Saturday -- and all year long.
Like a Good Neighbor
It's pretty simple: The more activity in a neighborhood, the more people and money that neighborhood will attract. That sort of nuanced growth doesn't happen in a vacuum. Just ask Anne MacGilvray of Two Crows for Joy, which launched in September on Larchmere Boulevard. She's learning that being a good businesswoman means being a good neighbor.  
Two Crows sells American-made clothing for kids and babies. For MacGilvray, the shops around her don't represent competition, but rather support. For starters, she's housed inside the delightful vintage consignment shop Eclectic Eccentric, but the symbiosis doesn't stop there.
"There's a lot of back and forth with the other businesses," says MacGilvray, citing the adjacent House Warmings as proof. "We have joint events with them. They've even given me furniture they've made to use for my window display."
"Customers come in and we talk," she continues. "They introduce themselves. It's kind of unlike what I was expecting. It's really an amazing feeling of support from the other businesses and the customers that come in."
Sharie Renee, owner of Cosmic Bobbins, is singing a similar tune in the adjacent Shaker Square neighborhood.
"Shaker is such a wonderful, walkable area," says Renee. "You're able to have dinner, then come over and shop at our store, or have a drink and visit some of the other local finds, go see a movie. There are a lot of things that families or couples can engage in."
Cosmic Bobbins features the art of more than 30 local artists, including Melissa Hale, who creates custom fragrances, and jewelry maker Jennie Bendis.
"I think there's really been a resurgence to bring art in particular back to Shaker Square," says Renee. "We sort of fill that piece in the neighborhood."
Meanwhile in Ohio City, Jennie Doran, owner of the "lifestyle boutique" Room Service, has watched a shopping community bloom all around her, all while blooming sales.
"We moved into our location four years ago," says Doran, noting that back then Room Service was the only retail venue south of Lorain on W. 25th Street save for Voodoo Monkey. With the addition of Campbell's Sweets Factory, Penzeys Spices, Salty Not Sweet Boutique and the Cleveland Hostel, "foot traffic has just exploded."
"South of Lorain has become more of a destination for people to continue their W. 25th Street experience. They do the market, the fabulous restaurants, but having other diverse options for people to shop and spend time further down the street in my neck of the woods has been remarkable."
Home is Where the Hard Rock is
Located in the historic ArtCraft building, Guitar Riot bills itself thusly: "We make things louder." They do so by offering an array of guitars, amps and pedals from national suppliers, plus local manufacturers like Akron's Earthquaker Devices, guitars by Jay Pawar, and amps from the internationally acclaimed Dr. Z Amplification. And when you buy one of Z's amps at Guitar Riot, the love stretches all the way to Maple Heights, where a staff of 10 builds the legendary blasters.
"They all have mortgages and car payments and kids," says Guitar Riot co-owner Brent Ferguson. He should know; he worked at Dr. Z's for 11 years. Buying locally made goods "really does benefit everybody," he says. "Not only do they get paid, they're going out and spending their money in their communities as well. That's the thing people sometimes forget."
On the quieter side of things back at Room Service, Doran stocks goods from local makers year round. But she shifts into high gear for the holidays thanks to the annual pop-up event Made in the 216, which features the wares of more than 60 local businesses. The event kicks off November 29 and will be going full blast on Small Business Saturday.
Pay it Forward
While all of Cleveland's indie bookshops go out of their way to support local authors, funky Guide to Kulcher, which opened earlier this year in Gordon Square, puts the concept on steroids. The shop offers a host of books from local boutique and vanity presses, but the shop doesn't keep a dime of those proceeds. They all go right back to the author or presses, such as Crisis Chronicles, Green Panda Press and the Poet's Haven.
If you choose instead to purchase a new book at Kulcher from established publishers like McGraw Hill or Random House -- or even a gently used paperback edition of Joan Didion's Play it as it Lays for $6 -- that money is supporting a grass-roots startup as well as an American hero.
"Our window wash man is a 70-year old retired Marine veteran," says proprietor Ra Washington. "We understand the Rust Belt economy."
How about ordering one of Johnnyville Slugger's sweet custom baseball bats for your father in law? Not only are you supporting local wood suppliers and wood-curing shops, you're also helping shop owner Johnny Smatana provide life-altering second chances for some staff members.
"My best guy has 11 felony convictions," says Smatana, who takes chances on people others pass by. The move has paid off. "I've got guys who've been with me three years -- since I opened the store." But just because he gives folks a shot doesn't mean he's a softie in the shop. "I work hard and you will work hard or you can't exist in my world," he says. "This isn’t your mother running this place."
Too much machismo? Then how about a set of three lavender laundry sachet pillows from Jane Pierce's online emporium, zJayne, where 25 percent of the proceeds go directly to a local Goodwill, Salvation Army, Value World or some other local thrift outlet.
"What goes around town stays around town," says Pierce, who is a member of Collective Upcycle. The nationally recognized crafter buys gently used T-shirts and thoroughly launders them before upcycling the soft cotton into any number of irresistible wares, including the ever-popular Bicycle Guardian Pouch, which features a Guardians of Traffic sculpture holding a bike.
The Taxman Cometh
Sure, you don't immediately have to pay sales tax to Amazon (but you do declare those purchases on your state income tax forms, right?). For those of us who do not, our gain comes at Ohio's loss -- to the tune of an estimated $628.6 million in uncollected revenues. That means primary and secondary education, Medicaid, and programs supporting environmental and natural resources all get short-changed.
"The model for funding in the state of Ohio -- a lot of it is built on sales tax," says Suzanne DeGaetano, owner of the indie bookstore, Mac's Backs. "If you are buying something on Amazon then you are skirting local sales tax and therefore you are depriving your community and state of sales tax revenue."
"I always use the example of Harry Potter books," she adds. "We sold a lot of Harry Potter books when they came out and I'm not complaining about that, but think of all the people who bought them online. If all those dollars had stayed in the state…"
That said, she is sympathetic to those watching their wallet. "I see customers on all kinds of budgets," says DeGaetano. "People have to make choices. So, okay, we know you can't always shop locally, but if at all possible do your stuff locally first. That's the indie-first concept."
"It's more than a trend," she says. "It's a way of living that people have adopted. It means everything."

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit for complete profile information.