Council Member Espinal, the author (middle), tours a local market
The holidays are my favorite time of year: a time when we can open ourselves up to one another and reflect on what makes us grateful. Whether through wishing a stranger a happy holiday, participating in charity, or simply sharing traditions with friends and family, the holidays are a time for community.
Yet, amid the joy and cheer that accompany the holiday season, the pressure to find perfect gifts for our loved ones while also balancing our checkbooks can be daunting. Especially when income inequality in New York City is at an all-time high and working people are struggling to get by, the sense of obligation to buy presents is often an added burden on already financially strained families.
Even with specific family situations being what they are, New York City consumers will spend a lot of money this holiday season. We live in a heavily consumerist culture, with pressure constantly upon us to buy more and more -- pressure that is even more present during the holiday season. Whether through the temptations of often sneaky “sales” in big-box stores or more modern techniques, such as the constant slew of advertisements targeted at us on our Facebook pages or in emails, large corporations are always trying to reach us; always trying to sell us the next big thing.
Big companies often do provide us with the stuff we need to live our unique lives, while also providing jobs for our families and neighbors. But corporations do not have to be our main providers and an over-reliance on their services does not offer the best economic opportunities for our city.
This holiday season there is again an important opportunity for us to create a stronger local economy by patronizing local businesses. That is why, as a City Council member, the chair of the Consumer Affairs committee, and a Brooklynite, I am urging my fellow New Yorkers to shop locally.
Look for items made in New York to encourage local manufacturing and skip the big malls for your local business corridors. You’ll be amazed at the variety and quality of goods available to you locally, if you look.
If you prefer online shopping, consider replacing amazon.com for madeinnyc.org, an online platform that directly connects New Yorkers with local manufacturers offering the latest in food, fashion, furnishings, and other products. There's nothing like shopping local for all your last-minute gifts, too.
One recent study found that for every $100 spent at a local business, $68 stays in the community. Yet, when the same amount of money is spent at a non-local business, it produces only $43 for the local community. That difference of $25 per $100 could be going to community businesses, which are often owned by families and employ neighborhood folk. Local ‘mom and pops’ have long been the backbone of our society -- they sustain families and provide jobs to community members. In fact, since 1990, small businesses alone have created 8 million jobs and most owners support paying above and raising the minimum wage.
These are key reasons to shop local this holiday season -- and beyond.
Small businesses no doubt contribute to the economic fabric and sustainability of our local communities. And, if that is not reason enough to support your local shops, consider this: a Harvard Business School Study found that CEOs make 350 times more than the average worker. Income inequality is one of the most crucial and wide-reaching issues of our day. We saw this as a major theme in our recent presidential election, both in the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and in the general election with the nomination of Donald Trump -- a radical rejection of the political status quo -- because it spoke to many Americans’ innermost economic and social grievances.
Each of us has ample opportunities to make personal choices that hold large corporations accountable and bolster our local businesses. As chair of the City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs, and as a proud Brooklynite, I urge New Yorkers to spread the cheer to their local retailers and shop locally this holiday season.
Rafael Espinal is a New York City Council member representing parts of Bushwick, East New York and Oceanhill-Brownsville in Brooklyn. As Chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs, Council Member Espinal works to enact legislation that protects consumers, strengthens businesses, and empowers New Yorkers. On Twitter @RLEspinal.