by Michael J. Caduto
When I first moved to Woodstock in 1981, I walked into the Woodstock Pharmacy to buy a newspaper, and came out with a chocolate bar. It was like entering one of the Five-and-Dimes found in many 20th-century towns. A genuine friendly smile. “Here’s your change. Have a nice day.”
Back in 1990, when my wife and I lived on Golf Avenue, and my office was on High Street, we could obtain almost everything we needed in Woodstock—from essential groceries to decadent treats from one of two sweet shops in town. In addition to the Woodstock Pharmacy, there was the Shire Apothecary—each a great source of everything from stationery and office supplies to the cards we shared with friends and family to mark birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and life’s passings. Prescriptions for what ailed us, picture frames, wrapping paper, program supplies, gifts and countless other “essentials” that we didn’t know we needed or wanted until we saw them on the shelves—all came home with us. During one visit to the Woodstock Pharmacy, I finally walked downstairs to discover a world of toys, games and books by the hundreds, displayed in a space the size of a bedroom.
These establishments are now a fond memory. Fortunately, we still have the Yankee Bookshop, F. H. Gillingham & Sons, Unicorn, Ferro Jewelers, Mac’s Market, Woodstock Farmers’ Market, Village Butcher, several banks, a wealth of eating establishments, Pentangle Arts, the Woodstock Hardware Store, Red Wagon Toy Company and Artistree just north up the Stage Road. (My apologies for not having the space to mention everyone!) And let’s not forget the newspaper you’re now reading, which serves as the voice, bulletin board and cultural palette for Woodstock and the surrounding towns.
By now, readers may be wondering: What does all of this have to do with Sustainability? Many businesses come and go, but when the Woodstock Pharmacy closed in 2020, it was one more blow to the community’s gut. Woodstock keeps losing vital sources of everything from essentials and critical health needs, to goods that make life fun and fulfilling, leaving gaping holes in the social and economic fabric. What was once a trip down the street to support a local business—and the employees whose livelihoods depend on that business—often requires a drive of 40 minutes each way to purchase the objects of our needs and desires. We aren’t just losing local options, we’re losing acquaintances and social connections among longstanding employees—some of whom we now see working at other businesses throughout the Upper Valley after having been employed for decades in Woodstock.
Longer trips mean more miles driven, and increased carbon emissions, adding to the greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change. And how does one weigh the extra time it takes, and gas it costs, driving 1½ hours round-trip to purchase what was once available around the corner? What happens when local farms struggle to find regional markets, and discover themselves shipping produce, milk and cheese greater distances to make the bottom line (generating still more carbon emissions)? Does the land that once supported a dairy farm or orchard end up being subdivided? Not to mention that locally grown vegetables are more nutritious and flavorful. And what of the ineffable sense of spiritual satiety that we feel when cooking a meal made from ingredients grown on a neighboring farm?
There are many factors that go into the closing of a longstanding and cherished local business, especially if an entrepreneur has been carrying on for years with thin margins because of a deep-seated commitment to the community. Pandemic aside, it is increasingly hard to run a small business in an age of big box stories and burgeoning Internet commerce. One of the only things standing between vital downtowns and a sea of vacant storefronts is constant and faithful support from local customers.
Buying locally is more than just an environmentally-friendly choice; it’s an act that actively binds the strands of a community together. It values social connections and livelihoods. It promotes a diverse local economy that offers both choices and essentials for consumers, opportunities for business owners and income for their employees. It honors future generations with decisions that have a smaller impact on the environment, lowering our carbon footprints. It supports local growers and producers. It recognizes that there are significant, long-term social and environmental costs hidden behind the seemingly lower price we pay online or when shopping at a larger, more distant store. The real cost of adding more and more items to our digital “shopping carts” is to unravel the social milieu and economic vitality of our communities, diminish local choices, erode our quality of life and degrade the environment.
Everyone needs to live within their means. But whenever the choice can possibly be made, buying local pays it forward to the community, to local employers and employees, to the natural world and to future generations.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Buy local—from those who grow, make and provide it locally. Each day—every day.
The phrase on the U.S. Dollar Bill, Novus Ordo Seclorum, means “a new order of the ages.” In fact, how and where we spend our money helps shape the future of our communities.