There's an awful lot of focus on reopening the economy these days. I suppose it only makes sense we landed on the term "reopen" during a time we're asked to stay inside as much as possible but, like the proverbial dog chasing a car, we need to ask ourselves what we will do when the moment arrives.
I had an uncle.
He was the epitome of an Iowan farmer. He was both tall and square-shouldered. He had a voice that could rival the man on the Allstate Insurance commercials, and he could easily sling me up in the crux of his elbow to carry me about when I was young – and I was rarely if ever small for my age. And, like most farmers, he had some opinions on economics. Not that we discussed it at length while he was carrying me around his farm, but he was convinced supporting local businesses was especially important, and I doubt many in this day and age would disagree with him.
Photographic evidence of said elbow-slinging (Photo by Martha Boyes circa 1988)
Now, that simple piece of barnyard wisdom isn't new of course, but I think the perspective which preceded it may be helpful as we salivate over "reopening the economy."
My uncle's name was Merlyn Groot. He grew up just after the Great Depression and, for a good portion of his young life, never left his home county. He married my aunt later in life, and I remember him once saying "Everyone had given up on me getting married except me." They lived in a small town west of Fort Dodge called Manson — home to a major meteorite impact 74 million years ago and about 1,600 people today. He became president of the Iowa Soybean Association, and he served briefly as president of the American Soybean Association from 1978 to 1979. He traveled to countries like Taiwan to help the agricultural industry abroad. You can even find Congressional record of Uncle Merlyn speaking to federal legislators on occasion. So I'd like to think he knew a thing or two as far as local and international economics are concerned.
And what he knew was this — when you support local businesses, that money eventually makes its way back to you.
There was no online marketplace when a tornado ripped through dozens of Manson's downtown businesses in the summer of 1979, nor when the farm economy crashed in the decade to follow, but there certainly is now. The advent and eventual rise of online mega-retailers is reflected in the empty windows of many a mainstreet storefront, both in our state and around the country. Communities in our area of the state have been taking steps to reverse that trend over the last several years. Local chambers of commerce are doing their part by finding modern ways to keep the dollars pumping from cash registers to homes and back again. It's the lifeblood of a local economy, and it tracks like it too.
But current business closures have been prompted by state and federal health concerns and they're slowing that flow. At a certain point our blood vessels will start to burst, and we need to do something. While few of us are trained to develop a cure for COVID-19 or treat the sick — and we thank those who are, because your work benefits us all — we can all do a little economic CPR to keep our communities breathing.
I realize that right now, our options are limited. Even though a lot of stores have been told to close up, life doesn't stop and we still need to buy goods. But a few compressions and a few breaths in the here and now will go a long way in keeping our neighborhood shops from flatlining. So take advantage of curbside pickup. Have the store deliver, even if it costs a little extra. And, like the chamber says, buy a gift card to give your favorite business a little infusion of dollars and get them through this.
And get through this we will. I expect that when we do, those businesses are going to burn rubber and do all they can to give you all the goods and services you could ever want. It's then that the curbside pickup might turn into a new product line you were hoping they'd start carrying. It's then that the delivery charge might ultimately go toward hiring your teenager. It's then that the gift card might become a quiet dinner without the kids — and I think plenty of people would agree that's worth more than the sticker price.
It won't always be cash in your pocket but, one way or another, the money you spend at a local business is indeed going to come back to you in some form — just like Uncle Merlyn said.