Goodbye Starbucks and Wal-Mart. Here's what happens when one family gives up its big business ways.
The Levitch family
Bye Bye Starbucks: TeaTime is a locally owned tea shop where the family now gets their caffeine fix.
If one family shopped only local every day for a year, would it help small business?
That's what the Levitch family of Arizona is attempting to find out. The family of four—Julie and Randy and sons Rex, 6, and Judd, 4—said goodbye to Starbucks, Target, Walgreens, Amazon et al in favor of buying only from local businesses for 365 days. (Not surprisingly, they're blogging about the experience here.)
What prompted the conversion? Julie Levitch is an entrepreneur (she owns a small PR firm called Sourdough Marketing) and Randy Levitch manages a clientele of small-business owners for OPEN American Express (and helped promote the company's Small Business Saturday). Both grew up in cities with vibrant independent business communities – San Francisco and Spokane, Washington – and said they often looked around their current city of North Scottsdale and wondered why there weren't more local businesses.
Then their beloved local restaurant Aladdin's – which struggled to attract customers even though it was at a busy intersection – went out of business.
"I thought, 'Oh no, not that place!' and it got me really angry," Levitch told Earth 911. (On her blog she wrote of the place: "The food was delicious, and the owner truly cared about us and all of his customers. His pita bread and hummus were among the first foods that our boys ate.")
So the family opened a checking account at a locally owned bank, began investigating how they could buy gas and office supplies without breaking their local-only promise (the gas is harder than you'd think), and found an independent tea shop. It's not Starbucks, Levitch wrote, but there's "real customer service! It's less expensive, and in the long run, I'll also be saving gas and time." Her current conundrum: Finding underwear for the boys that isn't from the consignment shop or $20 per pair.
"We're shifting our whole lifestyle," she said. "We can't just hop over to Home Depot anymore."
So far the experiment has proved eye-opening—and both money and time-saving.
"You know, you go into Target for one thing that's $5, and you end up leaving with a cart-full of stuff that's $100," she said. "And it's just because it's on sale or buy one get one free, not because you actually need it. That's a lot of wasted time and money."
Now, she says, she and her husband have swapped Saturday-shop-a-thons for more time with their kids.
"Instead of spending Saturday shopping at Target, we go to the park," Levitch said.
On her blog she cites a Civil Economies study that for every $100 spent at a local business, $73 stays within the local economy, compared to just $43 when the same amount is spent at a non-local business.
"I hope it sticks," she says. "I hope after 12 months we don't go on some Wal-Mart spree, because there are so many long-term benefits."
What effect do you think the Levitch experiment will have?
IMAGE: Courtesy Family
Last updated: Jan 24, 2011
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.