Growing up on the Space Coast, I spent much of my time at surf spots up and down the length of Brevard’s beaches with names like “Picknick Tables,” “Second Light,” “Missiles,” and “Sharkpit,” among others. As a young man, being a “local” had real significance to me.
Were we protective of our favorite surfing haunts? Of course, though we’d have been hard-pressed to admit it. There was an identity—a vibe that we cherished—without really knowing why. It felt similar to the affinity many people have to their university alma mater.
Unlike other places, however, being considered “local” did not necessarily mean you were born here. Because when I was growing up, hardly anyone had been born here; we were all transplants.
The camaraderie was more about the connection we all felt to the community: the sense of pride and belonging that organically grew in the hearts of the neighbors and residents, no matter how long they had lived here, no matter where they had come from.
These days, I sense a collective national and global connection due to the unprecedented experience of Covid-19, and the tense and frightful moments that have come after its discovery. We are a world changed, without a doubt.
We must, however, be thoughtful about how we help by first turning our attention, and our dollars, to our “locals.” Only then can we begin to climb out of the turmoil and head towards recovery.
Who Is My Neighbor?
“Buy Local” was a campaign that started well before the pandemic, as profits and jobs were being pulled away from area businesses to the big-box players such as Amazon and Ebay.
I am not an advocate of trying to reverse inevitable trends and global access is something that consumers have again and again supported. There is, however, an opportunity to pause and ask: “Can I get the same, or perhaps better value, by shopping (or hiring) locally, rather than assuming the internet deal is always better?”
I have had several discussions with local mortgage brokers who have a steady stream of clients lured into basement-low rates and ease of startup applications on the web, only to find the process bogged down as they got further in.
Additionally, the local brokers understood regional regulations that often saved clients hundreds— even thousands—of dollars, while offering the advantage of having a “friend in the business” to help guide them through the qualification-to-closing-labyrinth.
Hospitality Takes the Hit
One of the industries that has been the “point of the spear” in taking the brunt of the economic meteor strike produced by the pandemic is, undeniable, our hospitality industry.
Until the recent business closings, Central Florida was attracting more than 70 million visitors annually, creating a ripple effect of jobs, spending, infrastructure improvements, and cultural and social enrichment. From attractions to cruise ships, from hotels and B&B’s to restaurants of every imaginable type and ethnicity, from retailers and car rental agencies, from urgent care facilities to pharmacies, local businesses in the area received some influx of support and cash from this tourist-related travel that circles directly back to hospitality.
I am proud that I have seen my neighbors and friends patronizing carry out services from local restaurants and working to ensure local businesses could remain solvent by purchasing gift cards or sending money via PayPal and Venmo.
Stay Home, Buy Local
What if we all made a similar pledge for a “staycation” in Brevard this summer? To book into local hotels, eat at local restaurants, purchase goods and services from local retailers and vendors? Imagine what that might mean to the businesses who persevered through the shutdown? Imagine how that might help?
Years ago, a local architect and dear friend, Vaughn Holemen, told me there were two types of people in any community. Some, he said, were like strip miners from his native Kentucky. They came in, took what value they could from the land and left it worse than they found it.
The others he described as farmers. Both were focused on drawing value out of the land, but the farmers had a long-term view and commitment: they stewarded the land, insuring maximum yield in the present, but never at the sacrifice of future yields. It was a generational perspective that had a sense of legacy and vision.
Economically speaking, dollars spent locally—whether for a meal or for a manufactured good or service— keeps that money circulating in our local communities. In a similar manner, as we move forward pausing before shaking a hand, or being conscious of social distancing, we need to develop a mental check before we make a purchase and ask: could I get this from a local? •