Yes, it's ironic that a very big company —American Express— is sponsoring Small Business Saturday, tomorrow. Nonetheless, if one 'buys' the set of statistics that —
for every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures, whereas if spent in a national chain, as so many are doing today on so-called Black Friday, only $43 remains locally, and if on-line, probably nothing
—supporting your neighbors would seem to be a mutually beneficial cause.
According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses of less than 500 employees account for around half the U.S. GDP (gross domestic product) and more than half of the employment in the U.S. More than 75% percent of those small businesses have fewer than 10 employees.
But why stop there?
Why not, tomorrow, on Small Business Saturday, support your LOCAL BREWERY, be that at the brewery (if it has an open house) or at a brewpub, or at an independently-owned beer shop, or at a locally-owned restaurant or pub that itself supports local beers. According to the Brewers Association, 90% of the more than 1,600 breweries in the U.S. are small and independent. Their retail dollar value in 2010 was an estimated $7.6 billion.
The buy-local-food movement (often unfortunately affixed with the ugly portmanteau of locavore ) is strong and growing stronger, if still relatively small. As strange as it may sound, I wish I could say the same for the buy-local-beer movement.
The 'craft beer' industry began about 30 years go, in part, as a reaction against the lack of choice of local beer. If it's not available, we'll make it, said those pioneers. Now, however, a lot of love seems to go to beers of scarcity and, shall we say, elsewhereness. If it's made here, it's not so special. I'm damning with a broad brush, and there are many exceptions, but, to a not insubstantial degree, this is, unfortunately, a truism. And, it's an ironic one, since, again, as the Brewers Association points out, every American alive in 2011 lives within 10 miles of a brewery.
"But, what if the local beer isn't good," I hear. With all the choices available, I find that a weak argument. And, even if it were so, a consumer living in the same community as a small brewery does have influence. Importune the owner: tell him/her what's wrong (or what's right). You can't do that with an international conglomerate. Likewise, if the choices are limited at your local shop or restaurant, ask the owner why —since you're supporting him/her, a local business person —he/she isn't supporting local breweries. Or, if they are, thank them.
Beer that is local won't have come from hundreds or thousands of miles away. That, indeed, makes a huge difference: carbon-wise, employment-wise, and tax-wise. And flavor-wise, the beer will be fresh.
Tomorrow may be Small Business Saturday. But, don't stop there. Make tomorrow the first day of a long commitment. Continue to buy local, to support local, to drink fresh, to drink local. Locally-owned breweries, independent beer shops, and restaurants may not always offer the absolute cheapest prices for their products, but their success is vital to the vigor of your community.
Don't misconstrue my intent to be a diatribe against imports and other 'craft' beers. Far from it: the beer world is a marvelous universe. It is, however, a plea to support the home brewery first. That matters.
There are several on-line resources for finding local breweries, brewpubs, and beer shops and restaurants which support local and 'craft' beer. One of these is the Brewing News chain of bi-monthly newspapers —yes, old-line media, which has finally carved a niche on the web.
Here are its listings for breweries and good beer shops in the mid-Atlantic area: