Remember “Always Buy Colorado?” I thought not. To refresh your memory, in 1986 State Sen. Ray Powers, R-Colorado Springs, introduced an “Always Buy Colorado” resolution, urging all patriotic residents of the Centennial State to patronize local businesses. A nonprofit was formed to promote it, a dreary logo was created, businesses statewide signed up in support — and it soon disappeared.
According to Guidestar, “This organization’s exempt status was automatically revoked by the IRS for failure to file a Form 990 for 3 consecutive years.”
It wasn’t the first such effort. The extensive collection of stuff I seldom look at includes a bronze medallion minted by the Denver-based Colorado Manufacturer’s Association in 1906. It features the state seal on the face and “Keep Your Money in Colorado” on the reverse. It’s reasonable to assume that members of the CMA were concerned about competition from out-of-state firms. How dare they sell better products more cheaply? The effrontery!
In 2008, the Colorado legislature approved a bill requiring the state government to buy only U.S. flags made in America. And by approving Amendment 64 in 2012, Colorado residents made it unlawful to either import or export marijuana — a decision we might come to regret someday. But for the moment, all legal weed is grown, processed, sold and consumed in-state.
The same spirit animates President Trump’s incoherent trade policy. Posing as a firm protector of workers victimized by unfettered globalization, Trump vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, impose punitive taxation on imported goods, punish relocating corporations and expel undocumented immigrants who have supposedly taken millions of jobs from hapless Americans.
Such nativism makes little sense. Many economists believe that the Great Depression of the 1930s was caused and/or exacerbated by tariff barriers, notably the U.S. Smoot/Hawley Act. Similarly, most economists also believe that free trade and immigration strengthen economies.
By contrast, today’s locavore/buy local movements arise from prosperity, not desperation. Chain restaurants are conveniently located, affordable, ubiquitous and boring. It may be a little more expensive to go to a locally owned joint, but so what? Restaurateurs like Johnny Nolan (who just closed Southside Johnny’s and opened the N3 Taproom) and Thunder & Buttons owners Eric Ivey and Heather Joffe support and enrich their local communities. Their eateries, like so many others in Colorado Springs, are fun, friendly and unique.
We’re home to hundreds of locally owned restaurants, and tens of thousands of small businesses. All share a common DNA — the drive to succeed, increase sales and maybe even expand beyond Colorado Springs. Most will not, but national prosperity depends on the unimpeded flow of capital and workers throughout the United States — and beyond. Think of Shawnee Huckstep of Techwise, who fearlessly expanded to Dubai.
Yet every rule has its exceptions. Consider the Colorado statute that restricted any individual or company from having more than one liquor license. The law effectively prohibited chain stores like Safeway, Kroger and Walmart from having more than a single statewide outlet. Beer, wine and liquor sales were the shared monopoly of 1,600 independently owned small businesses. That diversity and variety provided a market for the craft breweries and distilleries that have become powerful economic and cultural drivers in Colorado, as well as keeping profits and revenue in the state.
Faced by the threat of an initiated measure backed by the chains, the legislature and Gov. Hickenlooper crafted a compromise that will open up the market, subject to some restrictions.
By doing so, are we ending an artificial monopoly or destroying a prosperous small business niche? Have we traded our quirky identity for cheaper Bud Lite?
Yes, yes and yes — but the creative destruction of capitalism often obliterates things that we love. I prefer locally owned bookstores to Barnes & Noble, prefer Barnes & Noble to Amazon.com, prefer print to screens and handwritten letters to email. Too bad — Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates know my real needs. That’s why I carry an iPhone, work on an iMac and shop occasionally online. But given a choice, I’m anti-technology, anti-globalization and pro-local. Printed books bought locally, locally owned restaurants, locally brewed beer and locally distilled gin and bourbon. We like wine from the Western Slope, and that’s OK. In yet another example of a vital, non-local supply chain, most of our water comes from tributaries of the Colorado River.