As we gear up for the holidays, we’ve been hearing a familiar refrain: Shop Local. The value of supporting local businesses is well established: money spent locally supports a friend or neighbor’s job, charities and youth activities, and thriving downtown districts. The same is true for supporting local non-profits; your investment will be returned directly to the community. But this year, shopping local — let’s call it spending local — means even more.
Since July, a considerable amount of my time has been spent helping local cities and counties give grants to small businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic. My colleagues and I have had countless conversations with business owners suffering through the closures of 2020 — trying to hang onto businesses that they’ve poured their heart into, to pay their rent or mortgage, to provide for their children.
At Sierra Business Council, we believe that local economies and communities are vital. This is why, over the past 10 months, we’ve spent thousands of hours supporting small businesses through grants, loans, and business assistance. And that’s why we’ll keep doing so — providing relief while the pandemic lasts, supporting eventual re-opening and recovery efforts, and sharing key resilience strategies for wildfire, power shutoffs, and other climate change challenges.
We also believe in community-led solutions to the challenges our region faces, from small business resilience to climate change. When we talk about the importance of local communities and economies, it’s because every day we live and breathe the impacts of local investment.
We’re fortunate to live in a place where community investment is done right — from the Truckee-Tahoe Community Foundation’s investment in affordable housing solutions through the Mountain Housing Council; to the Sierra Community House’s shelter, food, and mental health support services; to our own donors who support the work we do here at SBC.
Money does the most good when it’s kept local. In the era of online shopping — which was booming prior to COVID, and is even bigger now — that’s true even when big corporations try to do their part to give back. Let me tell you why I was disappointed when, in mid-November, Amazon billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos announced the first recipients of grants from his Earth Fund, a $10 billion commitment to fight climate change.
In this round of grants, Bezos gave $100 million each to several large, well-established, and well-funded environmental groups. While these groups engage in valuable work, they also wield clout and name recognition that few other environmental orgs can match. Instead of playing it safe and thinking within the box, I would have loved to see Bezos recognize and invest in dozens of small, community-led initiatives on the frontlines of climate change, for whom even a tiny fraction of $100 million could be completely transformative.
Some might say, Why pick a bone with Bezos? A climate investment on this scale is huge! While I agree that this initiative is unprecedented, I also believe it is important to contextualize Bezos’s philanthropic efforts. The Amazon CEO’s is worth around $182 billion. Over the course of 2020, as people have opted for the safety of shopping on Amazon, he’s been making an average of $9 billion a month. On July 20th, he made $13 billion in a single day. The point is that $10 billion, for Jeff Bezos, is not a lot of money. Even if he never earns another penny, after his Earth Fund grants he will still be worth over $50 billion more than Bill Gates, the second-richest person in the world. Personally, I’m much more impressed by the local business owners doing everything they can to keep their employees on payroll or still giving to local nonprofits.
As individuals, trying to tackle big, systemic problems can easily leave us feeling overwhelmed and powerless. That’s why, in the spirit of both community and local investment, I propose a challenge for the holiday season: spend your money at the local level. Regardless of how much you have, whether you choose to shop or donate, invest in community. Buy gifts or gift cards from a local shop. Order take-out holiday meals from a locally-owned restaurant. Give year-end donations to community nonprofits in honor of your friends and family. Support the businesses and organizations that you believe in and want to see thrive.
So many local businesses and organizations rely on this season to sustain them. We can give them the boost we need. In a year where pretty much everything has felt outside of our control, this is one arena where individual actions still make a big difference. I’ll raise my glass to that — and I hope you’ll join me.