Evaluating the cost and benefit of shopping local

Support your community, one purchase at a time

We seem to be conditioned to think a dress from Aritzia is better than a dress from Carmel City on Dresden Row. Capitalism has made us believe these recognized brands are the answer to our clothing quality needs, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Shopping local supports our community, our province and in turn – ourselves as students.

The shop local bug

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a boom in local shopping. Although local businesses suffered from lack of tourism, stroll-in traffic, and those without online storefronts were struck by the reality of technology, everyday citizens were making conscious efforts to buy locally. People were staying closer to home, exploring the shops in their neighbourhoods.  

Curbside pickup became a convenience for customers who usually couldn’t make the time to go shopping. During the holiday season, there were lists of local shops circulating the internet to help shoppers determine which stores were open and in what capacity. People started caring about local products and less about Amazon and Walmart. 

With people back to their busy lives, there’s less focus on shopping locally now. I no longer see those lists; I haven’t seen a “shop local” post being shared around Instagram since Easter.  

Weighing quality over cost in local shops

I’ve always admired local businesses. I love the ambiance and quality of local coffee shops. I love walking downtown with some Black Market goodies, Biscuit finds and a book from Atlantic News. It makes me feel immersed in my community. 

Students living away missed the Nova Scotia support local trend. They didn’t get to see business owners beaming with joy, their hard work getting the recognition it deserves. 

Local shops are more accessible for in-person shopping to many students, as on-campus living limits you to the university area. However, local shops often come with a price tag that can scare students away.  

Quality and time cost money. 

Local businesses don’t have the cheap resources (or unethical labour) that keep big-box prices inexpensive. Local shops also make less in volume than big-box stores do, so their profit margins are smaller. 

Shops need to mark up prices to make a fair profit, whereas Amazon has more room to markup price while keeping costs down because they pay less for the product. 

When you buy from local shops, you support a small bubble of people who make the products for you. There are fewer products made, but more effort goes into them. 

Wouldn’t you rather see where your money is going? 

The privilege of post-secondary

I know a lot of university students might not fully understand what the shop local movement means to our community here in Halifax. Some students, because university is inherently more accessible to children of wealthy families, come from a life where the way products are made or where they come from isn’t something that requires a lot of thought. 

Post-secondary education is a privilege and it’s good to see through another lens from time to time. Students who do watch their spending should consider their impact when they decide to buy. 

When someone opens a small business, they put everything on the line. They may apply for grants, spend retirement funds or quit day jobs. Owning a small business isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle. 

According to canadastartups.org, it costs a Canadian business owner $5,000 to $10,000 in initial startup fees. Small business owners need to earn that money back, pay employees, buy supplies and pay to make or source products. They do this all while continuing to pay personal rent and bills. This is why that sweater you’ve been looking at in the local shop downtown is $200.  

Not all local shopping costs more

Shopping local doesn’t even need to be expensive. You can start with the little things. 

Get your breakfast bagel from Coburg Social instead of Tim Hortons. Purchase your bread from Nova Pharmacy or Seaport Market instead of Superstore. Source your chopsticks from Ikebana instead of IKEA. Buy your poutine from Willy’s instead of New York Fries. Buy your mug from Sweet Janes instead of the Dollarama. 

These little changes make a giant difference.   

If you use DalCard, look into what local businesses take it as payment. There are great local food options on the DalCard vendor list, found on Dalhousie University’s website.

According to Halifax Partnership, there are 30,825 students in Halifax, studying at six institutions. Imagine what kind of an impact 30,000 people would make if they focused their spending on small businesses.  Instead of buying five shirts you don’t need from SHEIN, buy one or two shirts from a local store. They will last you longer and, I promise, they’ll be cuter.  

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Carleigh MacKenzie