Monday, April 09, 2007

Local vs. Chain: is one more "responsible?"

Lately, there's been a fascinating debate going on within my local community regarding supporting local business vs. supporting larger chains. This is mostly due to a local chain, Boloco, that recently took over one of the buildings in the area due to the community's general lack of interest in the local business that was in the building. While it is a local chain (started in Boston, near Berklee), the feeling of one particular group in the community is that anything resembling a "chain" doesn't belong in the Square, and that people should be supporting local independent businesses instead of the larger chain. To this group, supporting local businesses seems to mean you're being more socially responsible than those who go to chains.

Now while I'm all in favor of supporting local businesses (Cambridge Naturals in Porter Square, for example, is a regular shopping destination for me), this entire debate begs the question: does being a local (i.e. non-chain) business somehow make you more "responsible" than a larger (i.e. chain) business? Does your moral compass somehow get misdirected because you have more locations? And, if you decide to give your business to a chain instead of a smaller business, does this somehow make you less socially responsible than others who base their purchase decisions on how small and/or local a place is?

I guess I have different criteria than others. What I look for in a business I support is a business (no matter how big or small) that offers a quality product/service, is actively working towards creating a positive experience for their customers and their employees, and the environment. Sometimes this means I'm getting my groceries at Whole Foods or coffee at Starbucks. Sometimes this means I'm eating dinner at a local restaurant or buying veggies at the Farmer's Market or a local specialty shop. But when I don't see those criteria being met (for example, the staff are surly and unhelpful, the product just isn't that good, or the place isn't making an active effort to at least reduce waste in their practices or move to less harmful materials) - no matter how small or local the business is - I'm not going to support it. And I don't see anything wrong with saying that.

How do you feel about this? What criteria do you use when choosing who you spend your money with?

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