As the economic crisis continues, our nation is struggling to turn around its money, fate and fortune. Proceeding hand-in-hand with our economic restructuring has been the call to “Buy American” and even to mandate it as a part of the economic stimulus plan.
The call to buy American makes some people anxious, both the free-trade crowd here and our foreign suppliers. This week’s cover of The Economist magazine melodramatically expressed those fears. Trade protectionism is personified as a reanimated corpse with a horror flick title across the top that reads, “The Return of Economic Nationalism.”
Despite the stir, buying American holds a lot of power right now. And not just on the national level: Governor Jennifer Granholm’s latest State of the State address featured Michigan labor as an essential part of the state’s plan. According to Granholm, “instead of spending nearly $2 billion a year importing coal or natural gas from other states, we’ll be spending our energy dollars on Michigan wind turbines, Michigan solar panels, Michigan energy-efficiency devices, all designed, manufactured and installed by. . . Michigan workers.”
We need to make a similar effort to buy American on a local level. Regardless of our differences when it comes to international trade policy, we can agree on what we want our city’s economy to look like.
All of us benefit from the small businesses that stitch together Ann Arbor’s economy. Because of the little restaurants and bookstores that make this place so unique, the University is able to attract some of the most progressive minds in the world. This is a symbiotic, even chicken-and-egg relationship; it’s tough to say which boomed first. Ann Arbor and the University wouldn’t be one without the other.
When I read in the Ann Arbor News that Shaman Drum bookstore was looking for help from an investor, it hit me like a call to arms. More students are buying their textbooks online to save money — and in these hard times, that is completely understandable. Shaman Drum owner Karl Pohrt took pre-emptive measures to prepare for the blow. He applied Shaman Drum for nonprofit status in an attempt to embrace our community and Shaman Drum’s role in it. The Internal Revenue Service returned his request with a letter in November saying that they’re too swamped with requests to review it for some time. In the meantime, Shaman Drum needs our support.
Students cannot become investors in our local icons, but our actions en masse are just as influential. We truly are voting with our dollars when we spend them. In this vein, I want to write a campaign ad for our community.
Shaman Drum has books you’ll never find in a chain store because Pohrt and his staff cater to our community. To really look at the shelves is to take the city’s pulse. They’ll even have the esoteric book your professor suggested you read. But one thing matters most of all. The place has the soul of a poet and a scholar. Besides, it brings literary figures in to speak, many of whom are recently graduated authors in need of a launching point to “the real world.”
When I heard that Shaman Drum might be having tough times, the first thing I did was pick up some books there. It’s an empty gesture, unless you do it too. Times are hard for everyone right now and we have to stick together.
But we’re not just talking about bookstores here. When you go out to eat, forget the sandwich chains that have elbowed their way onto State Street (aren’t as affected franchises if the rent is too high). Go say hi to Sava or Silvio instead.
Forget seeing “My Bloody Valentine” in 3D. Check out the Michigan or State Theater instead — your date might even mistake you for “cool.” In all seriousness: when you choose to buy local, your lifestyle will change for the better.
You and the shopkeepers begin to know each other. Those little conversations you have, or even their nod of recognition, can pick up your day and theirs.
Sure, we need our food to be cheap if we’re going to eat out at all. I’d just like to let the $5 sandwich crowd know that they can get a pound of Indian food at the same price. You just have to know where to look. For those in a hurry, snag a chicken shawarma pita.
Everything local has an unfair reputation for being expensive. I work at Café Ambrosia, and we have the cheapest cup of coffee in Ann Arbor. Working there only convinces me that people like that local familiarity. Most of our customers come in every day.
Give a little place a try that you haven’t been before. My next stop? The Jamaican Jerk Pit on Thayer Street.
Meg Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.