A Santa Cruz artist at work.
Local woodworking artist Rob Bolduc at work. He creates pieces from fine art to furniture.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Local Business

WALLACE BAINE: ‘Buy local’ is more than a slogan, it’s a prescription for a stronger community

As the holidays rush up on us, Wallace Baine talks about how — this year, finally — he’s going to work to buy gifts from locals as much as possible. It is, he argues, how we create and sustain the special and unique place that is Santa Cruz.

“This holiday season, you’re going to do things differently.”

That’s my conscience speaking, sitting in the passenger seat as we wait out the longest red light in the Pacific Time Zone (coming downhill from Holy Cross toward the Town Clock at Center Street — am I right?).

Wallace

“This year, no more waiting until the last minute, then tossing a few gift cards on the conveyor belt at Safeway, and calling it a day.”

Great, I’m trapped at a light with Jacob Marley.

“This year,” my conscience hectors me, “you’re going to buy local.”

Of course, I probably said the same thing to myself last year, and the year before that, and probably two or three before that. “Buy local” is one of those nice ideas that comes floating into our collective consciousness this time of year, an innocuous holiday platitude that is soon drowned out and brutally undermined by the million other advertising messages flooding our eyes and ears.

But of all years, this is the year that it’s time to take “buy local” seriously.

Seriously.

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Can you remember an approach to the holidays that has been as filled with dread and trepidation as this year? Look around: rising inflation, congested shipping networks, supply shortages, worker shortages, sticker shock, shipping delays, strikes and picket lines.

I can barely pass a gas station sign without feeling like I’m being strangled. It’s unnerving to be reminded that the world of cheap and abundant goods and services that most of us have grown up with (thanks, China!) is not permanent. It may even be in eclipse.

For generations, “buy local” wasn’t a thing, because it was the only thing — much like how no one had a “land-line” because everyone did. So, this is no radical Marxist redistribution theory, or slick marketing gimmick.

It was basic economic behavior before we all got used to the world Amazon created (speaking of which, nothing makes me want to run into the loving arms of “buy local” more than watching Jeff Bezos do an end-zone dance with his grotesque rocket toys).

Local jewlery maker Mika Flink
Local jewelry maker Mika Flink works on a pendant. Flink makes rings, necklaces and earrings.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz County in particular has battalions of small-scale creators — artists, designers, manufacturers, makers — with all kinds of good stuff for your home, your body, your eyes, and your mind. One thing they generally don’t have is the ability to break through the noise of everyday life, so it’s up to you and me to go find them.

As consumers, we’ve become too accustomed to the tyranny of convenience while we lie around like Cleopatra expecting the world to come to us through the click of a mouse, the least expenditure of effort possible.

As consumers, we’ve become too accustomed to the tyranny of convenience while we lie around like Cleopatra expecting the world to come to us through the click of a mouse, the least expenditure of effort possible.

Buying local might also change the calculus of what holiday giving is all about in the first place. When you buy a gift for your Aunt Judy, you tend to zero in on what she likes and wants, find something suitable, and pull the trigger. But supporting a local artist or manufacturer might upend that equation.

Maybe you’re unsure whether Aunt Judy will like that locally made knit cap, or pair of earrings, or landscape print. But the thing matters less than the effort. Your gift to Aunt Judy is not only a cool item, but the support and engagement of a local creator. It’s not only the thought that counts, it’s the transaction too.

For artists, writers, and musicians in particular, such support is critical. I’m haunted by an amazing song called “Everything is Free” by the great Gillian Welch (UC Santa Cruz alum) which starkly expresses the economic race to the bottom that has eviscerated so many dreams of making a living in the arts.

She reminds us that we live in a world in which artists are expected to essentially give away their work, even those who command a market for what they do, with a dig at the media empires that exploit creative artists:

Someone hit the big score/They figured it out

That we’re gonna do it anyway/Even if it doesn’t pay.

It’s true that there is nothing quite as cheap in the modern world as a song, a drawing, a novel, or a recording. As consumers, we live in an Eden of content where almost everything is low-hanging fruit. But there’s a difference between a consumer and a fan. A fan understands the give and take of artistic creation. A fan takes nothing for granted.

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This holiday season, be a fan.

Let’s acknowledge that buying local isn’t exactly easy. Where do you go? Who do you talk to? After Thanksgiving, as the wheezing machine of the holiday season once again gets cranked up, we at Lookout will help our readers get a handle on the buy-local market for art, food & drink, books, homeware and more. We’ll also want to hear from our readers on who in the community is producing great products.

We all know the benefits of buying local — keeping more wealth and commerce in the community, encouraging and supporting local entrepreneurs, scoring one-of-a-kind gifts that often symbolize or otherwise capture the unique vibe of where you live, rebelling against the heavy-handed mass-produced commercial culture that celebrates homogeneity and smothers individuality.

All that stuff matters. We’re loath to admit it, but here in the Land of the Free (with purchase of $50 or more), often our dollars are more powerful than our votes. It’s time we start exercising that power, and empowering our local creatives at the same time.

Mika Flink holds up a tray full of her handmade rings.
Mika Flink holds up a tray full of her handmade rings. Flink makes rings, necklaces and earrings.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

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