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WEDNESDAY, Oct. 3 — It’s a David and Goliath fight, 21st-century style. In this corner, behold the Internet shopping juggernaut. Billions of products pour from vast warehouses, carried by drones to front doors without any hint of human interaction.
Only one thing can help us push back against this dystopian nightmare.
In the other corner — what the —?
Why, it’s Buy Nearby Guy, that cheery chap in the blue Michigan-shaped sack, with the Upper Peninsula sticking out of his head, bopping down main streets across Michigan.
This weekend, the Michigan Retailers Association is out to remind shoppers of the many reasons to “think before you click,” step into the sunshine (or the freshening rain) and buy your stuff from a flesh-and-blood person at a local store.
A battery of this-weekend-only extras will sweeten the deal.
Buy Nearby Weekend
The weekend will be sprinkled with activities, gifts, deals and other incentives from dozens of local retailers. People can take a selfie while shopping at a local store during “I Buy Nearby Weekend,” tis Friday, Oct. 5, through Sunday, Oct. 7, post the photos on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #BuyNearbyMI and they’ll be entered into a contest in which five shoppers will get $100 prizes.
Most of the shops at REO Town’s Vintage Marketplace, a big booster of Buy Nearby Weekend, will have sales all weekend. One of the vendors, Vintage Junkies, will have free gifts.
“I look forward to this event every year,” Vintage Junkies owner Amy McKeeken said. “It is definitely when I feel the most love from the community.”
In Old Town, another hotbed of Buy Nearby activism, several shops will have promotions and events.
Lynn Ross, owner of Mother & Earth Baby Boutique, has participated in the program for four years.
This weekend, kids will make a handprint card that conveniently doubles as a mini-map of Michigan.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Ross said. “We always do some kind of kids’ crafts to get kids involved and bring families in the store.”
Around the corner, at Old Town General Store, a cook will do local food preparation, with free tastes. Try persuading pasta to ooze through a computer screen.
Meegan Holland, spokeswoman for the Michigan Retailers Association, said Buy Nearby is a year-round promotion, but the first weekend in October — poised between back-to-school bustle and the holiday crush — is a perfect opportunity for an annual launch.
“It’s to get shoppers to think intentionally about where they buy their goods,” Holland said.
About half of every dollar spent in a Michigan store goes back into the local and state economies, Holland said, yet Michiganders sent $18.5 billion out of state in 2017 to “remote sellers,” mostly on line.
According to a 2014 report by Anderson Economic Group, Michigan would gain 75,000 jobs and $9 billion in economic activity, including $2.5 billion in additional wages, if consumers switched from out-of-state retailers to Michigan businesses.
Even Holland knows that’s never going to happen — she admits to buying the odd item on line now and then — but it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. If consumers switched only one in 10 of their purchases from “remote” merchants to Michigan businesses, the state would still gain more than $1.2 billion in increased economic activity, 10,600 new jobs and $350 million in revenue, according to the Anderson study.
Ambassadors from the retailers’ association, including its 8-foot-tall mascot, have been making the rounds of parades, festivals and farmers’ markets all summer, with stops in Caro, Gaylord, Wayland and Lansing’s Old Town coming up this week.
Besides gently pointing up the economic benefits of buying local, buy-nearby advocates are reminding people of the obvious: There are some things the Internet is just not good at. There is no substitute for asking an employee at Schuler Books & Music what is essential reading from Margaret Atwood, or getting personal counseling on accessories from Summer Schriner at Grace Boutique, another Buy Nearby booster. (She gave out chocolates on Buy Nearby Weekend last year.)
“And most people who walk into a hardware store probably have a very specific problem,” Holland said.
Funny she should say that. Last week, a woodpecker attacked my front porch, driving a cone-shaped hole through a wooden column.
On Saturday, Vet’s Ace Hardware on the north side of town fixed me up with a custom solution —a bendable shield of aluminum flashing and 20 sombrero-hatted sheet metal screws that now hold the woodpecker shield tightly to the post.
Stores like Vet’s Ace and Preuss Pets fight the Internet not just with personal service, but also by creating a destination where customers can see and smell the wares in all their tactile and olfactory glory.
When it came time to paint the post, the hardware man clipped my gallon of primer paint into an old-fashioned, spring-mounted shaking machine I would have paid cash money to watch.
Some of the other ways local stores contribute to a community get less attention. They weave an integral thread into the urban fabric. Boarded-up storefronts do not contribute to a community.
Holland said the contributions of local retailers to the community go beyond physical structures.
“When I’m working on a charity event, I’m not going to an online seller to ask for a donation for my silent auction,” Holland said. “It’s local retail stores that are asked to do that, or sponsor the local softball team’s T-shirt. They give back to the community. If you lose that, what are you going to be left with?”