Are we giving them a try?

"Pretty sad state of affairs for Ashland when our Starbucks chainstores are overflowing with Ashlanders and a local, community minded business like the Chai Hut can't stay afloat for lack of support. Support local business!"

"" Online comment to "Chai Hut to bid farewell this week."

July 29 Tidings

Support local business is the battle cry of the burgeoning movement to build local economies, sometimes called economic relocalization. The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) captures the movement's essence on its website: "A Living Economy ensures that economic power resides locally, sustaining healthy community life and natural life as well as long-term economic viability." Whether strong local economies actually move from vision to reality pretty much depends on you and me; It happens when a critical mass of consumers choose locally-owned businesses over much larger corporations that often feature wider selection, shinier and more modern surroundings and cheaper prices (at least while competition still exists). We're about a decade into an ongoing exploration of how willing we are to do that.

From where I sit, the revitalization of local economies looks like our singular chance for a livable future. Much of the pain we're starting to see has at its roots a highly centralized global economy, dominated by a small class of businesses that are designed quite specifically to drain wealth from local communities to the pockets of their shareholders. You won't find exactly those words in their corporate charters. But close.

We can't go on like this. Unless we find ways to keep a much larger portion of our wealth in our own communities, circulating through local businesses to local employees and contractors, who in turn spend it on local goods and services, it seems too delusional to expect our kids and their kids to enjoy lifetimes nearly as prosperous as ours have been.

Which calls on us as consumers to ... do what, exactly? I wondered about that as I read online comments on the closure of the Chai Hut, in part because a key investor pulled out, citing "astrological concerns."

"People, people," one reader wrote in, "you live in the real world with a real world economy. Astrology is NOT a valid business plan ... this 'community' doesn't care about silly business concepts or ideas. Come down to earth and be competitive with your product and your business will succeed, just like the rest of the world."

"Perhaps," said another, "this reflects not a lack of support by the community but maybe a simple lack of 'desire' for the product. Not saying it is bad! Just that you gotta create that 'desire' by getting people in the door and that takes marketing, marketing, marketing ... and, apparently, a good astrologer."

Another reader said, "Starbucks. You see, Starbucks is full because people like their coffee. Chai Hut is closing because they do not sell what people want. No conspiracy here. Check out Mix, Beanery, Evo's other great local coffee shops that are busy."

Just one comment ran the other way: "Come on, people. Perhaps management could have done things differently. Maybe. But this is our people, our friends, who are losing everything. With their pride high and chins up, they made fabulous pepper brews and refused to sell to people who could care less about our community. Buck up and keep your criticisms to your pathetic selves. For once, make it about supporting them and less about how they didn't think like you."

At the end of this online thread you're left thinking we have two choices in a case like this: either keep more wealth in the community with purchases of stuff we don't especially want, or export our wealth with purchases of exactly the stuff we want. I'd really like a third choice.

In the case of coffee, I have one; the businesses mentioned above have been able to compete with Starbucks, because premium coffee is so broadly popular. But when a local business tries something a little different, may there's another third choice available to those of us who want more of our dollars to stay close to home. Maybe it's our job to try them out.

The Chai Hut's "fabulous pepper brews" probably aren't for everyone. But there's a chance that some regular Starbucks customers who never made their way in there would have been pleasantly surprised if they had &

enough, perhaps, that the Hut's doors would still be open and its crew still employed.

I'm not willing to buy products or services I don't want just to support the local economy. What I will do, now that the Chai Hut has made me think about it, is push my consumer comfort zone to try local products that might surprise me. In the process I'll tell any local merchants who care to listen what they could do to earn more of my business.

That's a different kind of consumer role &

more venturesome, more collaborative and more work &

than we're used to. More than customers, we'd be sculptors of our own local economy. We might turn out a very pleasing work of art.

Note: The organization working to localize the Rogue Valley economy is THRIVE, found online at .

Jeff Golden is the author of "As If We Were Grownups," "Forest Blood" and the new novel "UNAFRAID" (with excerpts at ).

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