Michael Shuman's new book may be called The Small-Mart Revolution, but he did more than preach to the local choir last week about not shopping at Wal-Mart.
The 50-year-old author, lawyer, activist and economist from Washington, D.C., has bigger aims: He wants Americans to build economically self-contained communities supporting local stock markets, banks, manufacturing and utilities, in addition to strong local retailers that aren't Wal-Mart, Macy's or Kroger.
After a brief on-air morning chat Thursday, Sept. 14 with KPOJ radio host Thom Hartmann, Shuman spoke to a dozen local business owners at a luncheon hosted by the Sustainable Business Network, a group advocating environmentally friendly, socially equitable business practices. The attending entrepreneurs were diverse in both politics and fashion: from Patrick Donaldson, former president of the Hollywood Boosters, in a three-piece suit, to David Yudkin, T-shirt-clad owner of Hot Lips Pizza.
Shuman (in slacks and an open-collared shirt, in case you were curious) railed against business taxes that land harder on individual proprietors than big corporations and zoning that favors industrial parks and malls over small neighborhood stores.
Yudkin told the group how officials with the Oregon Economic & Community Development Department excitedly visited him in when he rolled out his line of locally produced "Hot Lips" soft drinks in 2005, only to walk away once they realized he only wanted to sell them in Portland. Shuman shook his head, saying, "The way things stand now, most communities would be better off if we just shut down all economic development agencies."
Later that night, Shuman welcomed the fact that "green and local are meeting here" as 200 people gathered to hear him at the downtown First Unitarian Church. Juxtaposing "Small-Mart versus Wal-Mart," Shuman drove home the main points of his 270-page book: Consumers need to make the choice to support local businesses, investors need to put their money into local ventures, and policy makers need to favor local over non-local commerce.
Shuman says these recipes will help the environment by burning less fuel for trucking, favor businesses that are more mindful of their neighbors' health, and diversify the economy so the loss of one company won't "punch a hole" into it.
Asked how he would respond to people who are tired of feeling guilty about having to buy their groceries where they can afford to, Shuman said, "Our campaign is called 'Local First,' not 'Buy Local Or We'll Kill You.' We want you to think about your options, especially when it comes to services and things like loans. It's not about making anyone feel guilty about shopping at chains when you have to."