While I was studying in the Netherlands, our family learned some things about shopping that shocked us.
There people don’t race like rats across town to scrounge for the latest deals. There you establish relationships with particular shops nearby. You know the names of your butcher, baker, and bicycle repair technician, and they know yours. You don’t haggle over pricing.
You are loyal to the locals because they are your neighbors working to make a living, like you. Holistic and communal, shopping in the Netherlands was more than a raw economic exchange. It reminded me of my boyhood neighborhood on Chicago’s south side where my dad owned a grocery store.
Here’s a checklist for shopping that you can use to help your own community flourish:
Is the business in your community?
On limited budgets we need to spend wisely. But when you travel the highways for the latest bargains, you might not be saving as much as you think. Yes, it’s convenient shopping the Internet (there’s nothing new about mail-order catalogs), but don’t neglect your community.
When you shop locally, you not only build relationships and provide local jobs, you and the owner also pay taxes that are invested where you live. Abandoning community shopping has contributed to downtowns becoming ghost towns and to inner-city blight.
Bustling business districts are crucial for healthy communities.
How are employees treated?
If you shop at a store that mistreats its employees, you are encouraging them to continue. Also consider whether the employer makes room for citizens returning from prison, persons with disabilities, and minorities. Your community is stronger when everyone has a fair shot at employment.
Stop and chat with staff. Learn their names. Are they happy? Do they feel respected? Don’t just buy a product—treat employees like your neighbor. You might learn something about that business and find shopping there a more pleasant experience.
Is the owner investing in the community?
Do you sense that an establishment is in business just to make a buck, or is it also helping the community? Owners who live nearby probably spend some of their profits there.
Sure, the jobs are putting food on tables—but is there other evidence the owner is involved in the community? Does he or she sponsor sports teams or educational seminars? Serve on the city or church council or promote community events?
Reward community-minded owners with your business.
Does the merchandise match your values?
Do you care if the products you buy are produced in developing world sweatshops? If they are of good quality? If they are environmentally friendly? If they are produced locally and advertised with integrity? Make sure the products you buy contribute to a flourishing community.
Beware of mechanics and contractors with bargain pricing. They may be selling inferior products or providing shoddy services, costing you a ton later and perhaps taking advantage of that single mom down the street.
Products and services spring from worldviews. What do your purchases say about yours?
Not every store or service you patronize will meet every criterion on your checklist. We do need to balance our checklist with our checkbook. But you can start thinking about shopping in a new way.
Back in Chicago, my dad and I were driving along and noticed two kids beckoning passersby from behind their makeshift lemonade stand. Dad pulled over to the curb and we drank lemonade. Later I probed a bit. “Dad, that was kind of expensive.”
“I know,” was his reply.
Let's shoplift a page from the Dutch playbook and return to how we used to shop on our side of the pond. The benefits of holistic shopping for building community are numerous. And by using your checklist, you will be loving your neighbor as yourself.
- Why has shopping in North America become so distanced from our local communities? Is that for good or bad reasons? Or both?
- What advantages are there to shopping within your community? Disadvantages?
- Why should we come to know our neighborhood shopkeepers?
- Schuuringa observes, “Products and services spring from worldviews.” He then asks, “What do your purchases say about yours?” How would you answer him?
- What should be the deciding factor or factors concerning where we shop?
- Is it wrong to shop the big box stores? Why or why not?
About the Author
H. David Schuringa is the president of Crossroad Bible Institute, Grand Rapids, Mich., an international discipleship and advocacy agency for people in prison and their families.