When I visit a town and see “Buy local” signs in the stores, I’m vaguely amused. They’re telling me, if I take them seriously, I shouldn’t shop there but should wait till I go home. “Buy local” is a zero-sum game. My local business is most people’s out-of-town shop.
Why should I make a special effort to “buy local,” anyway? Are the shops in my home town more virtuous than in yours? Not that I’ve noticed. Does buying local mean more jobs and more money coming back around to me? It’s an extremely attenuated effect at best.
“Buy Local” usually means to buy at small locally owned shops, not at local shops that are part of big chains or franchises. But both bring employment, and big chains may hire more people than a small shop on a shoestring budget. When I buy at a chain store, that doesn’t mean money is leaking out of my town. Money goes out, but it also comes in. Local stores also send money out of town, unless they’re selling strictly home-grown and homemade goods, have locally made furnishings, deposit their money in a local bank, etc. If they have to pay higher wholesale prices because they’re small (and pass the costs on to you), then they’re actually sending more money out of town.
Sometimes I’d rather deal with a particular business even if I have to pay higher prices. I might like the people who run it and the service they provide, or I might admire what they do outside their dealings with me. I might just not like the big store, if they’ve been spamming me or otherwise acting obnoxious. But this has nothing to do with whether they’re local or not. A lot of my favorite vendors are websites based in distant places.
There are cases where favoring a local shop makes sense. If there’s a business nearby which offers something that’s otherwise hard to find, then I’ll make a point of buying there even in cases where I don’t have to. For instance, decent bookstores are hard to find around Nashua (Barnes and who? The ones who sent me 300 pieces of spam email?), so I make trips to the Toadstool Bookshop in Milford, NH, fairly often. I like having a place not too far from home where I can browse through real, dead-tree books. The point isn’t that it’s local, but that it’s a unique value which I want to keep. My own purchases don’t really do a lot for them, but my recommendations and their ripple effects might. Saying “Shop there because it’s a good store to have around” is a lot more convincing than “Shop there because it’s local to you.”