I guess a lot of people have long realized the importance of spending their money at local businesses, but for me it's pretty new. I grew up going to shopping malls with chain stores, and then there was online shopping and Amazon, and I always just went for what was most convenient and familiar.

In recent years, I heard stronger messaging to "shop local." But I didn't spend much time considering what that means or why I should do that. Plus, big companies still dominate advertising by a long shot.

I've been in the workforce for 5ish years, and most of that time was working for big companies. Since I started working here at Blue Ridge Hiking Company, both in our retail shop and as a hike guide, I started to understand a little bit more what all the "shop local" buzz is about. Here is some of what I've learned about why it's important to shop at small, local businesses. 

Support for the Local Economy

As I ring up a customer buying a locally made ceramic mug, I can visualize where every dollar of that is going. The money is split between the artist, a local individual who uses that money for their livelihood, and Blue Ridge Hiking Company. I know from working here that most of Blue Ridge Hiking Company's share goes to paying our employees (that's ME!!). You can imagine my "oh" realization at my stake in this customer's individual choice. What remains goes to basic business expenses like hiking gear, shop inventory, office supplies - things immediately necessary to maintain our ability to connect people with the outdoors. So this person's money is going directly to local people and a worthy mission.

If I tried to make a pie chart of the division of money for a purchase at one of the large companies I used to work for, it would probably have over 100 slices, as opposed to 3 slices. Sure, some of the money would still go toward paying me, but at a much lower percentage of the purchase. And some of the money would still go to operating the place, but the mission of the place was not connected with the local community. Which means a lower percentage of the money paid is flowing into the economy where the business is located. There are a lot of studies on this. Most of them claim that between 45% and 70% of money spent at local businesses flows back into the local economy, typically three times as much as purchases from chain stores.


Most local businesses are more sustainably run than large companies. Keeping goods and services local avoids a lot of transportation costs, energy expenditure, and pollution. Small businesses have a greater ability to be flexible with processes and can be less wasteful.  For example, if you order from our online store, you'll likely get an "ugly package" containing your order: we reuse packaging materials for our shipping needs whenever we can. Hands that make ceramic mugs pollute less than machines do. We carry high-quality hiking and backpacking gear made by small manufacturers. That means manufacturing proximity and environmentally friendly construction, and well made gear lasts (sustains) for a long time.

Quality of Goods

The stuff local shops sell is generally more interesting and higher quality. This is easy to get behind as a consumer. Most people who run their own small businesses wouldn't do it unless they love it and offer products and services they are proud of. As far as vessels for morning coffee go, the hand-crafted ceramic mug...with a hand-painted mountain ridgeline...from the artist who lives down the street...who goes hiking in those mountains all the time, seems like a good buy. A farmers market is another great example of this - the local greens always taste so much better than the grocery store greens!

Connecting  with People

I get a lot of satisfaction from being part of a community, and I think most people are the same way. Buying things you want and need from people who live and work in your community is a simple, mutually energizing way to participate. Business transactions can be warm and human. Everyone knows that feeling of going to the coffee shop that knows their order or going to the hairdresser who remembers their kids names. It's so nice!! Frequenting local businesses presents that opportunity.

My favorite version of shopping local is buying things directly from my family and friends (It might not surprise you to know that a lot of hiking guides are also writers, painters, sculptors, crafters). When I buy from them, I know and appreciate exactly where my money is going, and it is so hard not to love a thing made by someone I love.

Most communities have local non-profits or business associations working to boost up small businesses and foster collaboration. I encourage you to look into those organizations in your community. We recently renewed our Go Local Asheville membership for 2023 (so did over 500 locally owned, independent businesses in Asheville). You can pay $20 for a Go Local Card, which is good for the whole year. The $20 goes directly to support Asheville's economy and schools. Then you can present your card at those 500+ local business for awesome deals! We offer 5% off trips, books/maps, and BRHC merch for card holders year round, which you can redeem in person or using the code GoLocal at checkout in our online store.

Wishing you a happy holiday season full of local gifts!!


Note on Sources: I referenced Forbes and Mint while writing this blog.