Forget Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day; Re-Occupy Main Street and Remember Small Business Saturday
I wrote this post in 2012, but can't improve on it, so I am recycling it.
I have always been appalled at the concept of Black Friday, where people get pepper sprayed and trampled to death in the search for bargains at the suburban big box stores. Nor am I a big fan of Buy Nothing Day, particularly when I have two kids who work in small shops pulling espressos and mongering cheese.
But it is becoming increasingly more obvious every year that supporting our small businesses and our Main Streets is critically important, not only from an economic point of view, but from an environmental one. Almost five years ago, in what I think is one of the most important pieces he ever wrote, My Other Car is a Bright Green City, Alex Steffen wrote:
There is a direct relationship between the kinds of places we live, the transportation choices we have, and how much we drive. The best car-related innovation we have is not to improve the car, but eliminate the need to drive it everywhere we go.
Since then, study after study, book after book (summarized here) have confirmed the thesis that walkability, urbanity and density are the keys to green living. It's why I cringe every time Mike shows us another Ford Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid to be Priced at $39,495; to quote Alex Steffen again, "the answer to the problem of the American car is not under the hood, and we're not going to find a bright green future by looking there."
That's why interventions like Small Business Saturday are so important. It's not just about the jobs and the community, although that's really important and makes a huge difference. As Michael Shuman wrote,
Going local does not mean walling off the outside world. It means nurturing locally owned businesses which use local resources sustainably, employ local workers at decent wages and serve primarily local consumers. It means becoming more self-sufficient and less dependent on imports. Control moves from the boardrooms of distant corporations and back into the community where it belongs.
Colborne Street, Brantford, Ontario/Public Domain
It's not just the historic buildings, although a case can be made that they are greener and more efficient than newer buildings. As Stephanie Meeks of the National Trust for Historic Preservation wrote:
When we invest in small businesses, we are investing in Main Streets - the places that give our towns and cities a unique sense of place. By celebrating Small Business Saturday and shopping at independent businesses, everyone can play a part in strengthening our economy and supporting revitalization on our Main Streets.
It is more than that, it is about our future. If we are going to ever get people out of their cars, we have to ensure that there are alternatives. Small business and Main Streets are the key to walkability and urbanity. Peter Calthorpe writes:
Urbanism is, in fact, our single most potent weapon against climate change, rising energy costs, and environmental degradation.
That's why Small Business Saturday is a big deal. It's organized by American Express, which is a bit odd since many small businesses don't accept their card, but their aim is true: "to support small businesses that invigorate the economy and keep communities thriving."
If Small Business Saturday smells too corporate to you, then go out today and Reoccupy Main Street, a movement started last year with the Dallas Occupy movement and one which I hope will spread across the country. I love their new 2012 poster.