Analysis: Shopping local makes cents, especially as gas prices rise
By Earl Bates
To shop local or not to shop local, that is a question for Ojai Valley residents. Is it noble to shop out of town for products and services that should be available in Ojai?
“There are many reasons why people should shop locally,” said Scott Eicher, Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO. “If residents take their service patterns out of town, we will not have a vibrant, healthy local economy. If we have no businesses we will not have a community.”
“A vibrant economy is certainly in the best interest of everyone, including the city,” said Mayor Sue Horgan. “I think it’s important that we have a balance, that our merchants serve both residents and visitors and that we maintain that balance. I’m real passionate about this. I think if the merchants are supported they will be here for us, if we don’t patronize these people, how can we expect them to be here when we need them?”
Shopping locally can help the Ojai community in many ways; it helps support the local economy, it helps support local employment, it helps ensure that local businesses can continue to provide the community with needed products and services, and through sales tax it helps fund city services.
Local shopping can help residents save time, money and natural resources; and it contributes to the well-being of the community.
“On the self-serving level, people should be shopping locally to keep their gas bill down, and to reduce their carbon footprint,” said Eicher. “At $5 a gallon, driving to Ventura means you have to save an awful lot to make the trip worth the cost.”
The cost of an out-of-town shopping trip is becoming a bigger factor. One cruise around the county can roll 30 to 60 or more miles onto the odometer. The cost of gasoline is only part of the equation, there’s mileage on the vehicle and a person’s time to factor in, valuable time that could have been spent at work, at home or at recreation.
For a single trip from Ojai into the Ventura area, the value of a person’s time and the vehicle’s mileage costs can easily add up to $100, more or less, depending on specifics. One way to estimate the value of a person’s time is to multiply the hours spent on the trip by the amount the person would have been paid for working an hour. This puts a typical value of $25 to $100 for a person’s time for a three-hour trip. Mileage expenses are much more than the cost of gasoline, they should include the amortization of the purchase price of the vehicle, maintenance, insurance and registration. A typical personal vehicle has mileage expenses of about $1 per mile, gasoline’s part of that is about 25 cents.
For the trip to result in a net savings, all of these costs would have to be more than made up by the difference in prices between Ojai businesses and the out-of-town shopping destinations. Many Ojai residents seem to think they are saving by shopping elsewhere, but after all expenses are considered, how much saving actually happens?
What about Ojai’s movement to go green? How’s that carbon footprint? A shopping trip around Ojai, even by car, can make a common out-of-town shopping trip look extravagant in many ways. A trip around town by trolley, by bicycle or on foot can be remarkably inexpensive and enjoyable. “I would rather bicycle over to Rains for clothes or kitchen gadgets than drive to any mall in the world!” said former Ojai Mayor Suza Francina. “There is no question that shopping locally benefits not only the business owners but the whole community.”
In addition to basic economic and environmental concerns, staying local can help create social and cultural networking benefits that can enrich individual residents and the Ojai community collectively.
Can’t find it in Ojai?
“The town formerly devoted a larger portion of its mercantile activity to servicing local needs,” said longtime Ojai resident Jim Churchill, co-owner of Churchill Brenneis Orchard, an organic grower of Ojai Pixie tangerines and avocados.
“Within living memory Rains was a hardware store; it seems to me that they’ve been extremely agile in adapting their product mix to what people with money will buy, but there isn’t very much there for me anymore.” Ojai used to have four welding shops, four nurseries, and a farm supply store. But those services went away because of changes in the town, the nation and the economy. I don’t know how you repopulate the merchant community with a different mix of providers. There are not many merchants that stay around as long as Rains has and adapt successfully to changing circumstances. So we get into this chicken and egg situation, merchants won’t stock products unless they think there’s a customer base and customers won’t shop here if it’s worth it to them, for whatever reason, to shop elsewhere.
“I think the price of oil is going to be a game-changer,” continued Churchill. “All kinds of things are going to shift around and people will need to drive less. But they aren’t going to shop locally if the things they want or need aren’t available locally.”
“I think we always have to remember that we are not just a visitor town,” said Horgan. “We are a real town, we have real people and they have needs and wants. Hopefully, it’s going to be in everyone’s best interest if our local merchants can provide for those needs.
“Obviously there are some things we cannot get here,” said Horgan, “but to the extent that local merchants don’t have some of the things that we need, I think it is incumbent upon the residents here to make that known to the merchants. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what the community goes out of town for?”
Many local merchants are happy to help find things the customer is looking for by searching what’s available from their suppliers. Special items can be ordered individually and merchants could consider stocking products that have consistent requests.
“There is a collaborative effort going on right now between the chamber and the city and some specific merchants and hoteliers,” Horgan continued. “We are trying to get our arms around this whole issue of how can we maintain a vibrant local economy. It’s all about knowing who the customers are, what do our residents want and need, and what do the visitors want and need? It’s a big issue and such an important one.”