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Livin' La Vida Local

What you buy can change your town for the better.

Want to boost your city's spirit and rev up the area economy? Buy local. It's an increasingly popular strategy among 50-plus Americans who want to free themselves from chain store sameness and keep their spending money close to home.

"We're finally getting the point across that if you spend $100 at a local business, $45 stays within the community," says Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher with the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "Spend $100 at a national chain and only about $14 recirculates." Buying local is also about trading superstore sterility — and packed parking lots — for something more unique. "For people 50-plus it's all about the experience," says Mitchell. "You enjoy walking to the bookstore during the day and to a restaurant in the evening. It's about choosing the quality of the experience over the cheapest option."

This desire for distinctness is turning area goods and services into neighborhood favorites. Maryland's Linganore Winecellars, for example, has scores of state residents as fans, and Hawaiian residents are partial to the Manoa Honey Company in Oahu. What’s more, independent business alliances in Utah, New Orleans, and Portland, Maine, are championing buy-local campaigns, and these local business groups are growing at the rate of about 25 percent a year, Mitchell reports.

But will localism's popularity fade faster than last year's fringed boots? Not a chance, says trend expert Joel Kotkin, author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He expects the interest to grow as boomers retire and seek locally owned shops and eateries. Adds Mickki Langston of Denver's independent business alliance: "You think, 'Do I want my community to have the same stores as the rest of the world? Or do I want an experience I can't find anywhere else?' "


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