At the tail end of the last century, as independent craft brewing was on the rise, an inexpensive domestic beer that was nearly forgotten got a new lease on life. The beer, of course, was the iconic Pabst Blue Ribbon. The place, of course, was here.
But the reason? Pabst didn't have the capital to market itself, so it didn't, which is exactly why Portlanders embraced it. Well, that, and the beer was, and remains, cheap.
In sum, Pabst illustrates what Portlanders think of themselves. We know what we like and why we like it. And we definitely know what we don't like, and if we don't like something, we're not shy about telling you exactly how we feel.
We're protesters and activists. And like all good denizens of Beervana, we love, in addition to our PBR, our local and regional brews. And, like good Pacific Northwesters, we love our coffee. And like good progressives, we love our bicycles. And as creatives, we love our gadgets.
But unlike hops, coffee beans don't grow on Douglas Firs, nor does the rubber that hugs our wheels, and the raw materials of the devices on which you're presently reading this were mined thousands of miles from here and assembled by the hands of people you'll never know.
So, what exactly does that mean for a proud, independent people who've taken abstract ideals like sustainability and built them into elaborate and evolving ways of life?
Buying Local is an Investment in the Local Economy
About this time last year, Neighborhood Notes contributor Suzanne Savell explored what shopping local really means.
The answers she received from the business owners she interviewed boiled down to one hard fact: when you buy local, you're investing in the local economy, because when you support the livelihood of the people who run your favorite places, you also support the people those people rely on to make their business work.
But what does it really mean, really? It means that for every dollar you spend at a local business, be it a salon, a bar or a retailer, you are contributing to the community that you want Portland to remain.
Citing the "multiplier effect" promoted by the American Independent Business Alliance, Supportland's Katrina Scotto di Carlo says that when you spend $1 locally, that dollar stays in the community and actually carries a worth of three dollars, because the business owners use that dollar to pay their employees who will then spend that dollar at a locally owned restaurant.
By spending locally, Scotto di Carlo says that "you're allowing business owners to pay their employees a living wage, you're allowing them to feed their children and send them to school."
Plus, she says, you then know exactly where that money goes. Comparing local spending to paying one's taxes in which one's income is collected and distributed to bureaus and departments over which we have no control, Scotto di Carlo says the effect is "almost magical."
So, with the busiest shopping day of the year upon us (or so they tell us), local business owners have their work cut out for them, for they must compete with the big box stores and online retailers that can easily afford to buy materials in bulk, and therefore sell them at prices local retailers can't afford to match.
And now, it's easier for them than it's ever been, as more and more smartphone applications are being marketed to consumers who are encouraged to visit their local brick-and-mortars, find the products they most like and then scan the UPCs of those products, which they're then encouraged buy instantly with the press of a touchscreen.
Buying Local Sustains Your Community
So if the restaurants, bars and shops that line your streets and dot your neighborhoods can't make it and disappear, what, then, will your streets and neighborhoods look like?
Folly's Sarah Bibb says it is often a diversity of specialty shops, restaurants and bars that help create that neighborhood's character. "Independent businesses define the flavor of your neighborhood, and Portland is lucky to have so many choices." she says.
Her boutique, which specializes in women's fashion of her own design, as well as the design of fellow fashion-forward Portlanders, is situated at the edge of Slabtown and the Pearl District, between businesses as disparate as Radio Cab and the crêperie, Le Happy.
"The truth is, if you don't support independent businesses, they will go away," says Bibb. "It's quite simple."
Sarah Shaoul, who owns Black Wagon, a children's boutique in the Boise neighborhood that specializes in games, toys and clothes, says that since August, at least three local children's stores have closed. Mother Nature's has closed, Grammy and Nonna's will close soon and Green Frog Toys will close for good on December 24.
“If you want the awesome, rich fabric of Portland to be around to keep you cozy all year long, inspire your creativity and fill you with pride, you must sustain it," says Lupine Swanson, one of the owners of the sewing studio Modern Domestic. "Discovering you love a particular blouse from a great boutique and then going online to find it for less means that cool little dress shop may not make it. And really, after the shipping is paid, it often saves you nothing."
Indeed, Shaoul admits that she cannot compete with what she refers to as the get-lost-in-the-box-store mazes or the virtual racks and stacks of online department stores. Instead, the value her shop offers its customers is that she and her loyal staff show customers their appreciation by remembering their names and the names of their children and by donating often to local schools.
Buying Local Is For Business Owners, Too
As a member of Portland's Small Business Advisory Council, an organization that mentors small business owners, Shaoul also says it's important that local business owners stick together and make the best decisions to benefit the local economy.
"One of the biggest challenges is, if [other local businesses] are not making smart decisions, it hurts all the other retailers, too."
Scott di Carlo says she gets what Shaoul is saying. When a retailer uses half-off coupons from online coupon dealers, those retailers "give the impression that when you pay full price, you're telling them, 'I'm ripping you off.'"
"There's no small business owner that I've ever met here who is richy-rich," Scott di Carlo says.
Brianne Mees, the brains behind Tender Loving Empire, says her shop mission is to support the community. "It's not just your average retail store, but a community of hundreds of artists benefiting from their purchases, including the record label that the store helps support."
It can be tricky, too, Mees explains, and more difficult to compete with larger competitors, especially for a small business like hers, in which 80 percent of her stock is handmade by locals. "Many retailers go through a handful of distributors and order in bulk from a few catalogs," Mees says, allowing them to keep costs low. "We, on the other hand, are constantly coordinating with the 250-plus local artists and musicians that consign with us.
"People come to Portland from other states and countries and spend money on locally made goods, and then we cut a check directly to our neighbors and friends that make them! It's pretty satisfying," Mees says. "It makes consumerism feel less icky and more human."
Illustrating Scott di Carlo's point about the multiplier effect, Mees, once she's paid her staff and her local suppliers, takes the dollars she's earned and puts them right back in the economy by shopping at other local retailers and buying her food from co-ops.
In the end, Scotto di Carlo says, there are three very simple steps to for consumers, including small business owners, to live by that will strengthen their communities and keep their neighborhoods singular: bank locally, spend with cash, and spend that cash locally.
If we do, then it's likely we will preserve the character of not only this city as a whole, but the unique character of each neighborhood.