By Emily Himmelright

Looking for a better life is what brought me and my family back to Spokane after 16 years away. Seattle’s housing market was and is untenable. The small storefronts and business districts that made me fall in love with that city in my teens have all but disappeared. Service workers can’t afford to live near their jobs, meaning they usually can’t even afford their jobs. Turnover is skyrocketing.

Spokane is currently where Seattle was in the late 2000s. We have a strengthening local economy and a growing influx of new residents. And at this point, we can make a different choice. SIMBA is doing the work to keep Spokane on the right track. A huge part of that is our Live Local campaign.

A lot of Shop Local initiatives across the country lean very hard on altruism and charity to drive people to change habits. And while altruism and charity are all well and good, using them to browbeat someone in to doing something is essentially about shame, and people will do just about anything to avoid feeling shame, including ignoring these campaigns.

While it’s very humbling and rewarding to be recognized as “Volunteer of the Year” for the time I spent helping launch SIMBA in to the world, it also feels a little strange. This is not something I did out of the goodness of my heart. I got involved for myself. When I make the choice to spend my discretionary income at local, independently owned businesses, I am making the choice to put my own interests first. Even most of my family’s non-discretionary spending is with local businesses and banks. And that’s all for our benefit.

It’s in my best interest that local businesses are successful and grow. That is literally how I got the job I have now with LINC Foods, which I love and would not give up for anything. And through my job I’ve shifted my spending even more to patronizing places that buy food from us. A $60 bill for dinner? Some of that is literally coming back and paying my wages.

It’s in my best interest to have a lot of local business districts. Not only does it make for a fun Saturday afternoon activity for my family or visiting friends, but it drives competition in price and in availability of goods. Local business means local products. I like being able to send gifts from Spokane that literally could not be found anywhere else. What’s the point of sending something across the country when it’s just at every mega-mart?

It’s in my best interest to have access to business owners and managers. Can’t find the thing you need? Ask them and they will order it for you. If enough people ask, they’ll start carrying it. It doesn’t take a nationwide petition to get an independent business to make a change. If they know what their customers want, they’re going to do it – the stakes are too high not to.

It’s in my best interest to occasionally spend a few dollars more on a product or service from a local business. That small expenditure is exponentially more valuable to my local economy than sending any amount of money to some corporate coffers – more likely, a tax haven. And honestly, I usually don’t have to. From appliances to office supplies, I have not found a better offer than a local business. And that’s not always in the price tag. When Fred’s Appliance rented us a loaner fridge while our new one shipped – and the loaner failed – they reimbursed us for the spoiled food. Try getting a national retailer to pay for your groceries.

It’s in my best interest to support local businesses that value and reward their staff. Having my food cooked and served by people happy with their jobs – do I even need to say why that’s important? Plus, seeing the same faces month after month, year after year, that widens my community. It makes the minutiae of daily life more enjoyable. I’m not just going to pick up a few things, I’m going to have 3 or 4 short conversations with pleasant people I’ve gotten to know while I do it. Sometimes they’re having a bad day and I can help lift them up. Sometimes it’s the other way around. When my mother walks into the businesses in town that she’s patronized for decades, she gets an excited hello, sometimes a hug, and a smattering of questions about her family and life. They are kind because she is part of what makes their job worthwhile.

All of this is how we build community. And community makes me happy. Makes us happy. Literally. People with strong community ties live longer, are less likely to suffer from chronic disease and, if they do, they have an easier time dealing with it than those who are socially isolated (1, 2, 3). Strong community lowers crime, increases wealth across classes (4, 5). Community saves lives. Again, literally. People with a supportive community around them are less likely to die by suicide, drug overdose, or other preventable deaths (6, 7).

SIMBA is asking us to Live Local. What does that mean?

Be where you are.    

Shop where you are.

Eat where you are.    

Grow where you are.    

Learn where you are.

Or, to harken back a few decades: Be here now.

We will make all our lives better.