Wednesday, October 31, 2007

...I Long For Yesterday

To Remain Local, Is To Be Local

Driving home from the winery the other day I found myself listening to a very familiar song… Yesterday, by the Beatles. We’ve all heard this tune a 1,000 times before but a phrase kept ringing in my ears… I Long For Yesterday.

That afternoon I had talked with a colleague in Seattle who owns a very successful wine brand (and also helps market our Working Girl Wines). She was on a real rant, upset that another opportunity to get market exposure had been canceled. She kept saying, “It’s harder and harder any more to be the small guy.” In this case, our distributor had cancelled a holiday trade show, the one event where we’re on equal footing with the “big boys” in the wine business.

Still thinking about our conversation, when I got home I looked up the lyrics to the song. That’s when another phrase caught my attention… I Believe In Yesterday.

How many times have we thought life was “better” or “simpler” when we were young? We all long to recapture that time when life seemed less demanding, slower, and not so chaotic.

Like me, maybe you moved from urban sprawl to this gorgeous Olympic Peninsula, captured by a rural landscape, unmatched scenery, fresh food, temperate climate and open land to build a home without postage size yards.

Or perhaps you grew up here, even part of multi-generations. For you the loss of farmland, rising home prices and the influx of box chain stores may have saddened you, and possibly changed your way of life.

We all know that change and growth is inevitable. We can’t live in the past. Even tucked away here, we’re all part of a global economy... whether we like it or not. It’s a question of the right balance between yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Somehow we must find that proverbial “common thread” that ties us all together, that special something which caused us to stay or gravitate here in the first place.

Me? Oh, I’m guilty too. After moving here six years ago I often find myself feeling, “Now that I live here, don’t let it change!”

But I straddle a line. See, I own a small business. And for it to not only survive, but also thrive, there needs to be a robust Peninsula economy with tourists flocking to our shores.

And I need an equal chance to serve you as a customer.

That’s why lots of questions keep running through my head. Can small business really be successful next to a chain store? Can a small community keep its unique persona without its family-run businesses, boutiques, galleries and restaurants? Can we keep our quality of life and still grow? Can we be small yet think big? Do we even have enough small businesses left to attract tourists... Longing for Yesterday?

I think we all believe in Yesterday.

We want small town life but big city conveniences. And please don’t put me in a box, addicted to consumption, with invasive marketing, that invents wants I don’t need (Whew! I needed to get that off my chest).

Here’s the thing: the reality and success of chain stores is ‘homogeny’ and ‘economies of scale.’ Corporations buy in large scale for huge stores. The stores are told where and how to display the same products. Robotic Merchandising has us buying the same products, wearing the same clothes, eating the same food. There’s no individualism or decision making required!

But... the price is often right. And that’s where our struggles usually begin... and where, I think, they need to end.

See, if we want our community to remain local… then I think there is a shared responsibility to be local.

As small business owners we have a responsibility to you, our customer. Sure, it’s harder to be the small guy but we can’t use that as a crutch. We know we have to earn your loyalty. We have to provide a quality product, convenience and customer service… no different than chain stores.

But when you enter a small, local business it’s different. It should be different. Call it ‘personal,’ if you will, as individual as each of us who own our businesses. We live the American Dream (but I’ll tell you... it’s way harder then any corporate job I’ve ever held!). When we have a “good day” there’s no higher high! When we’re asked to contribute to the many worthy causes, it’s hard for us to say no... because it IS personal. It’s our community.

Still, it’s a fact. We can rarely compete on price. But what we can do is provide a local experience that’s personal, heartfelt and appreciated. It’s the “local spirit” you carry home with you in your bag. It’s what gives you reason to smile and know you ARE an individual and important to us.

Now, here’s how I see it: if you don’t find that experience at a local business, then you have every right and obligation to buy from the big guys next door. We can’t expect handouts just because we’re small and local.

But when you do find it, then, even if it costs a bit more, I think you must consider BUYING LOCAL.

BUY LOCAL is a decision to support a local economy, to support this spectacular place you chose to live.

If all of us, both individuals and businesses, don’t choose to spend a portion of our hard earned dollars BUYING LOCAL when our trust has been earned then Yesterday will fade like the setting sun into an all-too-familiar distant memory.

Kathy Charlton
Olympic Cellars Winery

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