By Julia Hotz
I’ll admit it: Sometimes I shop on Tobi.
I could spend (and have spent) hours walking around Target just to pick up a cart-full of foot scrubs, scented markers and other useless items that I don’t need.
And when I heard about the “Yo” iPhone app, in which a hungry customer taps a single button on his or her iPhone to have pizza delivered instantly, my heart exploded with joy.
Living in the seemingly not shopper-friendly city of Schenectady without a car, I’ll confess that my spending habits are sometimes guided by convenience, efficiency and affordability.
It is not always true that the decisions that I make as a consumer entail a moral, or even a thoughtful, component.
Rather, my shopping habits are often a matter of what everyone else is doing, when everyone else is doing it and what is going to do the least damage to both my limited time and funds.
Therefore, given this environment, I have undeniably become victim of the habits of shopping online, shopping at chain stores and shopping via mobile apps.
But perhaps, as my Union education has demonstrated, the time has come for both me and our generation to instead become conscientious consumers.
Perhaps it is the time to rid ourselves of such time- and budget-friendly habits in order to instead adopt a lifestyle of supporting local businesses.
Indeed, from learning about the consequences of globalization in courses such as Professor of History Andrew Feffer’s “Since Yesterday: U.S History 1974-Present” to participating in hands-on local food initiatives such as U-Sustain’s Octopus’ Garden Work Hour, Union’s learning opportunities, both inside and outside of the classroom, point toward the tremendous political and environmental importance of supporting local businesses.
Yet the most profound lesson I’ve learned regarding the benefits of shopping locally has been through my personal experiences, both in my hometown and at Union.
When the demise of mom-and-pop shops, takeover of highway malls and surplus of vacated storefronts became a devastating reality two summers ago in Glen Rock, the small New Jersey suburb where I grew up, I became deeply invested in the livelihoods of local business owners.
Be it the Five & Ten Cents store that sold me my first Beanie Baby, the bookstore where I waited in line for hours to obtain my first copy of “Harry Potter” or the pizzeria that first introduced me to the magic combination of dough, sauce and cheese, I have realized how these mom-and-pop shops have taught me the true value of a dollar: They illustrated how paper currency was the means not simply to buy a product but to buy an experience.
But just as the forces of convenience, efficiency and affordability have become increasingly attractive for a time-consumed consumer (especially for a consumer who’s still in college) in the 21st century, shopping has decreasingly become about buying an experience.
Rather, the dynamics of our shopping tendencies may alternatively be characterized by how much bang we can get for our bucks and how quickly we can get such a bang.
This, I believe, is the reason why online shopping, mobile transactions, drive-throughs and mega-malls have become so popular.
And this is also why local businesses have suffered.
In response to this phenomenon, with help from some of my most passionate, community-oriented friends, I started a digital movement, “GoLo” (short for Go Local), in order to persuade our fellow Glen Rockers to re-examine the beauty of shopping locally.
It was our effort to bring attention to the fact that despite the increased number of ways that one can spend a dollar, there is timeless value in supporting mom-and-pop shops.
But here at Union, particularly in these recent, introspective weeks as a senior, I’ve realized that Schenectady can similarly facilitate the development of a meaningful relationship with local businesses.
This has been the case in my weekly visits to the Greenmarket, during which I’ll drag my weary-eyed friends over to the Schenectady City Hall Plaza for a delightful Sunday morning of taste-testing strange peanut butters, listening to live folk music and enjoying a slower pace of life.
A similarly intimate experience may be had one block over on Jay Street, where vendors of all ages and all trades take a common delight in getting to know their customers.
And from learning about the 12,000-record collection owned by The Re-Collector’s Jim, hearing about the latest antics of the son of Bel Cibo’s Jeanette or listening to music recommendations from the staff of the Happy Cappuccino, it’s been similarly delightful to get to know our local businessmen and -women.
So whether its buying old, $1 VHS tapes at The Re-Collector, doing your homework on the back couches of Ambition Cafe, attending live music shows and open mics at the Moon & River Cafe or even getting a discounted tattoo on your derriere at Tattoo Blues (just kidding), I encourage you to go local.
I encourage you to step off of our campus and into the corners of Schenectady’s greatest treasures: its local businesses.
And while the glass bottles of frothy chocolate milk, undeniably addictive tubs (yes, tubs) of the famous Buddapesto and sugar-coma-inducing drinks served at Happy Cap are nothing short of incredible, it is the experience of supporting local businesses, rather than the products purchased, that reveals a dollar’s true value.
Correction: The image in the print edition of the Concordiensis accompanying this article is courtesy of Camila Gutiérrez.