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Nov 172011
 

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

These commemorative days keep popping up faster than I can bat at them.

Fall brought a barrage of worthy days that would merit mentioning and which I missed, like America Recycles Day and World Vegetarian Day, though honestly, we should recycle every day and eat as vegetarian as we can, as often as we can if we want to lessen our load on the planet.

Then came Bank Transfer Day earlier this month, springing out of nowhere like an ATM bandit. Even though the trend of moving money out of the Big Banks had been chugging along all year, this one took people by surprise. I learned about it several days out and felt like a social media slug, but then, our family has already moved our money out of Bank of Hmmmm. So I wasn’t watching closely. And BTD turned out to be a viral thing that spun up quickly, started by one dissatisfied customer in the Bay Area.

Now comes Small Business Saturday. This will be on Nov. 26, the day after Black Friday. So let’s get ready.

The Breadhaus

I thought we might prepare by privately thanking the local businesses we depend upon, and making a mental list to shop at these places for holiday gifts as well as our usual supplies.

Personally, I’m thinking of Oma’s Breadhaus, which keeps our family stocked in delicious, organic, crusty bakery breads, and Beads on the Vine, where my daughter buys her jewelry-making supplies from the shop owner, who can always give her advice on the latest project. Our family is blessed to get a few trinkets and many of our staples from a nearby year-round farmer’s market, which hosts beekeepers, produce growers, and people who make pasta, salsa, soap, candles and spice mixes. I enjoy getting quality products from people I know and trust, while knowing I’m supporting a good business. I tell neighbors about the market every chance I get. I have a vested interest. I want those soy candles to stay available.

Years ago, there were so many more locally owned businesses. (Geezer alert: Reminiscence ahead.) Once upon a time, I bought my candy bars and sodas at the locally owned drug store, while my mom shopped across the street at Andy’s Grocery. If Andy didn’t hold her up while custom cutting the steaks, this timed out pretty well. Of course there was also the guy we had to buy gas from, the man who sold fishes for the aquarium, the fellow with the used musical instruments business in his basement, the couple who ran a smorgasbord on Sundays and the local department stores whose names you would not recognize unless you were from my home town, and now they’re all gone now.  My babysitter Patty worked at one, and I always loved stopping by to see her. These were the people we patronized, this was our community, and it seemed to thrive.

Seamstress at work in a local shop.

No it’s not that simple. It’s never that simple. Back then our world held about 3.6 billion souls, about half of today’s world population. The forests, oceans and prairies appeared endless — we should have listened to those who came before and warned us to leave the world in good shape for generations to come. Now it feels like we’ve pushed matters to their limits and have endangered the future.

These days there’s no gasoline or grocery “guy” and our babysitters work at multinationals, flipping burgers for minimum wage. And that isn’t the worst of it, but it’s part of that mentality that everything has to be bigger, and bigger and bigger. We are seeing what happens, however, when institutions become too big to fail. The bubbles bursting are splattering angst everywhere.

Wall Street is a part of this, sure. But it’s complicated. A couple decades ago Wall Street became us and we them. Private investments and mutual funds support those public employee pensions that people have become so envious of, as well as a vast constellation of 401Ks, big and small. Wall Street goes down and a lot of retirement plans will be wiped out, as we saw in the 2008 meltdown. That’s the problem with Wall Street, it’s the beast at our door. And yet, something needs to be done about the froth that keeps getting skimmed off the top.

Stronger local economies are one answer. They may not spin up eye-popping profits; may not provide a lot of froth. But they can sustain a lot of middle class people, and they’re also the vanguard of the green movement, championing cleaner production methods and more sustainable practices.

On Tuesday, we visited a local factory where small town American employees make sports uniforms. We were heartened to see this small firm, which turns out a quality product, humming along. Then we got a real jolt. Someone pointed to a red brick building across an abandoned lot. There stood “the old factory.”

Fabric, made in America

We assumed it was abandoned as well. But no, that’s where people weave the fabric for the uniform factory. We were amazed. Here was a factory in a small town, operated by local residents and supplied by locally made fabric.

This is what it’s come to. We are now surprised when things are made in America. When local people are producing products. And yet, they are.

Consider that this coming holiday. You may want to shop Small Business Saturday.

(A note: Small Business Saturday is supported by American Express, Federal Express, Google, Facebook and Twitter. AmEx and FedEx are offering some specials around the day. But we don’t have to kill the messenger here. Embrace the concept if you like it. Use your credit card if you like.)

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