When I toured GW last spring as a Midwestern boy in the nation’s capitol for the first time, it was comforting to see chain stores that I recognized. The District was drastically different from my hometown in Missouri, so spotting recognizable brand names like Starbucks and CVS on campus provided some solace. Even the Student Admissions Representative tour guides themselves are careful to walk students right through the Chick-fil-A in District House and mention the convenience of having a Whole Foods right on campus. But after the first few weeks of the semester, I’ve learned that these chain stores simply do not provide as complete and enjoyable of a shopping experience as smaller, local businesses.
Not only do local businesses provide better products and services, but patronizing these local shops can actually be a way of contributing to the community at large. Students should take it upon themselves to shop local and support the D.C. community because of the benefits to themselves and their new home city.
Small business are being driven away from campus as more and more chains come in.
For freshmen, it’s often hard to forgo the familiarity of the Chick-fil-A meal or Chipotle burrito. These dishes can serve as a comfort for first-year students adjusting to college, where everything is different from life back home. But once students try a sushi roll from Rolls By You or a Colombian lunch sandwich from Uptowner Cafe, it’s hard to deny the taste and health benefits when eating beyond the chain restaurant. Family-owned establishments often create more of their food from scratch, making the better option for the taste and the scale.
Local businesses can also more directly cater to the individual needs of a customer. When a business services a smaller clientele, there is a more easily developed sense of community between the business and its customers. Since starting at GW this fall, I’ve quickly become acquainted with the management team at FoBoGro. When I mentioned that they weren’t carrying a particular brand of drink I liked, they put it on their next order. I came back later that week to find my requested drink in stock. I can’t imagine this kind of service ever coming from a bigger store, where many decisions are left up to corporate leaders.
Many of these small business desperately need these small contributions from students, now more than ever. Small business are being driven away from campus as more and more chains come in, especially with the current 2100 Pennsylvania Ave. investment project, which has been likened to other GW development projects in which business owners were forced to vacate. The owner of Capitol Grounds Coffee, currently located at 2100 Pennsylvania Ave., said last month that she is “only able to make enough money to cover rent.” If students choose to support businesses like hers, they would benefit from the superior goods and customer service of a small shop while also supporting a unique small business and the familiar faces and relationships these places build. This support creates community relationships and can help students see D.C. as more of a home and less of a collection of recognized brands.
Of course, chains and national businesses do have some distinct advantages. There’s usually a consistency in product and a price reduction due to large-scale production. Brand recognition can be important to consumers too. However, as students look for more ways to get involved in the D.C community, they should bring their support to local establishments.
Buying local goods translates into a greater service and impact on the community at large.
It comes down to simple economics. When I buy a box of cereal from Whole Foods, much of the money runs up the food chain. The District does extract some small tax revenue from that purchase, but the bulk of the revenue from the sale of the box of cereal will go to corporate-level employees, third-party vendors and the upkeep of stores and franchises that may need that revenue across the country. National chains essentially siphon money out of the community and push it to other places. Even if students are only spending with their GWorld cards at those national chains, it’s still money being sent out of the neighborhoods that could use it.
But when I buy a box of cereal from somewhere local, like FoBoGro, the money follows a very different path. Because the management is all local, any cut of revenue they take goes back into their pockets. Many of these business owners likely turn around and put that money back into their business, improving them for all the local consumers. Even when the owner of a small shop has to give money to a national distributor, they are buying products that attract business to their store, thus giving them more money to further support their business. It’s a tight cycle, and it helps communities maintain a unique vibe and keeps them economically stable with a steady money supply. This applies to not just grocery stores, but any business that maintains a local, mom-and-pop-style ownership. Although it might feel impractical and expensive to do all the shopping in small businesses, students should start by buying one item from their shopping list at a local business or getting their latte from a place like Capitol Grounds Coffee instead of Starbucks one day a week.
Buying local goods translates into a greater service and impact on the community at large. The University pushes students to become integrated into the D.C. area and spend time with people living outside of campus. Students can do this in a way that both benefits the community and themselves by shopping and eating local.
Ethan Shuchart, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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