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New Year’s Resolution: Spending (More) Locally

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Many of us Columbus Underground readers and contributors support local businesses. Or at least that’s what we say. We may cheer on the new restaurant or shop on Columbus Underground, or when talking to our friends (Hooray, new Short North boutique!), but how do we actually behave (Hrm… I’ll just buy that at Target) the same way?

Nothing cuts through perception like cold hard data. I decided to put myself to the test, analyzing my credit card spending in 2010 (through December 21). Although this covers a significant proportion of my spending, it misses some key items:

  • Rent
  • Most of my utility bills
  • Some charitable giving
  • Smaller frequent expenses, in particular coffee (Stauf’s, Cup o Joe, Brioso) and cheaper meals (North Market, Spinelli’s, Foodie Cart)

There are a couple other major caveats:

  1. The definition of chain. Places like El Vaquero fell on the local side, in spite of multiple locations. Places like Donatos fell on the chain side, despite being headquartered locally.
  2. Expenditures while out of town. Spending at non-chain businesses were counted as local. The categorization was more about the type of business (whether in Indianapolis or Los Angeles or abroad) rather than specific to Columbus boundaries.

So, how did I do? Here’s the breakdown:

  • 19% Local restaurants and bars
  • 18% Arts (though almost single-handedly the purchase of one painting)
  • 11% Car-related (insurance, maintenance, gas)
  • 9% Online purchases (excluding airline tickets)
  • 7% Chain retail purchases
  • 7% Airline tickets
  • 7% Charitable giving

Local restaurants and bars represented the top category of credit card spending and had a share 3.8 times larger than that of chain restaurants and bars (5%). Rossi was at the top of the list by a landslide, followed by Rigsby’s and Cuco’s. On the chain side, Donatos was #1, followed by Hyde Park/Eleven and KFC. The local/chain ratio for restaurants and bars was even higher when I traveled: 4.4 times more dollars for local when out of town, compared to 3.5X when in town.

In contrast, local retail represented only 3% of my credit card spending. The majority of this was at the Party Source in Kentucky. If you exclude wine and liquor purchases altogether, local retail is less than 0.5%, paltry compared to the 16% combined share of online and chain store retail. Amazon topped the online retail category, while Giant Eagle topped chain store retail.

I can say that I never put myself out there as a proponent of local business, or that women do 80% of the shopping, or that I use Amazon for specialty art and design books that I can’t find in a local bookstore, or that I’m a rock-star supporter of local business on the dining and wining side. But the New Year isn’t supposed to be about excuses, and 0.5% for non-alcohol local retail is a low baseline to start from. For 2011, my New Year’s resolution is to spend more on local retail (and less on fast food). I will also track every dollar I spend, cash or credit. We’ll review again in a year.

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