By Gary Robson
I know there are people in Carbon County who don't like the "buy local" concept. Some feel that whatever they're looking for will always be more expensive here. Some just like shopping in Billings or Cody. But we all know that the economy here isn't particularly robust right now, and deep in our hearts we all care about this place we live in--otherwise why would we be living here?
So I have a modest proposal to make.
It won't take too much of your time. It won't cost you anything. In fact, it may end up saving you a few dollars. And it's just about guaranteed to help our local community.
Before I get into how this works, let me describe something that happened to Kathy and I last winter. We had purchased a home in Red Lodge and moved most of our belongings out of our ranch in Belfry, which we put on the market. We were gone for a long weekend, and a pipe burst. It couldn't be a pipe on the ground floor, or an outside pipe. Nope. It was a pipe on the top floor. It poured water into the ceiling for a day and a half, destroying carpets, drywall, countertops, doors, cabinets, and floors. It was devastating.
Our insurance company told us to call a contractor who specialized in disaster recovery, and do it immediately before there were problems with mildew or rot. They gave us two names, both from Billings. We got one of them out there that afternoon and they went to work drying things out. The contractor said they'd go ahead and line up their subs and get started fixing things.
We asked if they'd mind allowing some local subcontractors to bid on the job, and they asked if we had someone in particular in mind. We gave them a list of names, and they started making calls. They ended up using Belfry, Bearcreek, and Red Lodge people for all of the flooring, plumbing, electrical work, and cabinetry. The majority of that six-figure repair bill ended up staying here in Carbon County where it could help our friends and neighbors make a living.
Another quick anecdote: A few years ago, the Belfry school decided to stop buying food for the cafeteria from the Belfry Country Store and get it outside the county instead. The owner of the store acknowledged that they could save a few dollars, but asked some very important questions. When the school needs volunteers, do they call the grocery store in Billings? Does the grocery store in Billings donate money for the classrooms, yearbook, or sports equipment? The school board decided that it was worth spending a few extra dollars to support a business that supports the school, and continued buying from the Belfry Country Store.
People often have the impression that shopping locally is going to be more expensive, even when that isn't the reality:
My blue jeans cost the same here in Red Lodge as they'd cost at Shipton's.
When our freezer broke, leaving a whole side of beef thawing out, we got one right here in Red Lodge for a good price, and they loaded it in my truck immediately.
Even though the local tire shop didn't have the tires I wanted in stock, we had them within a few days--and they gave me a ride to work when I dropped off the car to have the tires put on.
The computer monitor we bought in Red Lodge was just as good and just as cheap as the one our friends bought in Billings.
Here's another thing to keep in mind: Local business owners only have so much money and time, and their customers are going to get priority for donations. If you're affiliated with a local charity or community-service group, ask what businesses have made donations of time or money in the last year. See if the Billings Wal*Mart is on the list.
Before you buy products or hire workers from outside the area, make a few phone calls locally. Imagine if our local craftsmen were able to bid on every school project, bank building, and major renovation in town. Imagine if our local library gave a local bookstore the chance to bid on books. There are about 10,000 people in Carbon County. What if every one of us spent a hundred bucks less in Billings each month, and put it into our local economy instead? Think what that million dollars a month would do for Red Lodge and Roberts and Bridger and Belfry and all of the rest of the county!
And the price doesn't necessarily have to be better for buying local to make sense. Talk to the local charities, schools, and community service groups. Ask where their donations come from. When you buy from a local business, they're donating part of that money back into your community. I don't think you'll find the Billings Wal*Mart putting money into Carbon County charities.
Perhaps you won't be able to find what you want here. Perhaps it will be too expensive. Perhaps the contractors will be too busy for you. But you just might find that locals do good work for a good price. That's what we found.
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