Op-Ed: The importance of shopping locally
There is a popular song in the Caribbean written by King Obstinate titled: “How Will Santa Get Here?” The proposed solution? “There is no reindeer in my country. He’ll have to borrow de neighbor’s donkey.” These themes of getting creative and leveraging community resources are the perfect segue for our article.
The people of the US territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are resilient, accustomed to being the last stop in supply chains, and forced to “make do” with what is around them. They have a proud and fierce sense of community. In the same way that the sun shines every morning, Puerto Rico and USVI’s small businesses are resourceful in finding ways to survive, recover, pivot, and evolve.
Given our island economies’ precarious economic situations, and notwithstanding big box retailers and e-commerce mammoths, it is even more important for us to shop locally and contribute to our local communities’ survival and growth. Small businesses create good paying jobs, pay local taxes, and sustain other local businesses upstream, midstream, and downstream, like farmers, fisherfolk and artists.
Environmentally, shopping locally is an anecdote that helps cut down on processing, packaging, and transportation waste, and increases the natural allure of our islands’ offerings. Shopping local can be our gift to the small businesses of our island economies, our vote of confidence in their unique products and services, and in helping them stay afloat and competitive.
For our tourism-dependent island economies, the more talent we develop, promote, and sell, the more we can become known for authentic local offerings. Not so much the souvenirs mass-produced on the other side of the globe, but creations made with the islands’ raw materials, imagined into unique works of art, craft and function. The more exclusive our local offerings, the higher their value. The more diversity we create in local businesses, the more interesting our ports become to locals and tourists alike.
The more we shop at local businesses, as locals, is the greater small businesses’ chances of sustaining their businesses all year round, not just in the peak tourism months. Our islands are sought out by persons across the globe for their natural beauty, their culture, and their cuisine. Here’s to a staycation so that we can enjoy our own offerings and be able to promote them more enthusiastically to others.
So, this season, whether we’re buying coquito or “guavaberry,” “pasteles” or black cake, visit a local vendor who has probably recycled the glass containers, wrapped it in local banana leaves, or used Cruzan rum as a staple. Decorate your Christmas palm tree with hand-made artisan ornaments depicting our beaches, palm trees, seashells and more. Delight off-island friends and family with local rum, one-of-a-kind handmade soaps, coconut half-shell candles, Puerto Rican coffee, bush tea, “dulces típicos,” local ceramics, art, woodwork, and jewelry.
Happy Thanksgiving, Feliz Navidad, and don’t forget… ¡Comprar local esta temporada de vacaciones y durante todo el año!
Lisa Chamely-Aqui, co-author of the opinion piece, is Outreach and Marketing Specialist for the SBA in the USVI.