Do what Alexandria says, not what it does

As you may have seen in my previous post, driving to work certainly affords me some interesting opportunities to see hilarious and contradictory things. Today was no different. I was stuck behind an Alexandria City vehicle that had a “Buy Alexandria” sticker on it. The premise, of course, is to encourage Alexandrians to patronize business located in Alexandria instead of shopping around in other municipalities for the best price.

The Mayor started a webpage to encourage this practice. Part of it reads:

The City of Alexandria faces a challenging economic environment similar to the unprecedented fiscal decline impacting the entire country. To thrive during these difficult times, you can help the local economy by buying in Alexandria, because your dollars count. Buying where you live and work is also good for the environment. You can reduce your carbon footprint by using mass transit, driving shorter distances, and walking to make your purchases in Alexandria. Everyone can help in many ways by keeping their dollars in Alexandria.

“As we navigate an uncertain financial future, it is critical to support our local businesses and government with our business,” said Alexandria, Virginia Mayor William D. Euille. “Buying in Alexandria and spending our dollars here will strengthen our economy, and help sustain the excellent services Alexandrians are accustomed to receiving. Remember: when you spend here, everyone benefits.”

When you spend here, everyone benefits? Sorry Mayor Euille, that’s not true. Like I’ve discussed, this is a fallacy and a bad practice for consumers to engage in. His premise, similar to that of the “buy local” (don’t buy from chain stores) is that you should spend in Alexandria, not outside of it. While slightly better than “buy from local stores not chain stores,” it, too, is flawed. According to Mayor Euille, everyone, of course, will benefit. Wrong.

Let’s say I am tasked with buying some potatoes for a party I am having. I could go to Giant on Duke Street in Alexandria, or I could go to Shoppers on North Kingshighway in Fairfax County. I bought a 5lb bag of potatoes there for $.99 recently. Giant is currently advertising a 10lb bag of potatoes for $3.49. 10 pounds from Shoppers? $2. So, by choosing to buy in Alexandria over Fairfax, I’m actually poorer, and not better off.

Back to the topic at hand.

So, where did Alexandria buy this vehicle? Richmond. Yes, Richmond. Alexandria City is encouraging its denizens to shop locally on a car they bought from a dealer hours away in Richmond. Hypocrisy. Blatant hypocrisy.

Now, I expect that Alexandria put out a bid, and Capital Chevrolet GMC had the lowest bid. Which is exactly what I’d expect my former city of residence to do — find the lowest cost for the best product or service. I think this is great. Buy from them by all means. Continue to require competitive bidding! However, don’t tell me, as a consumer, that I should do anything different. Consumers, too, should patronize businesses that offer the products they’re willing to buy at the lowest possible cost — not because of where they are located.

Maybe if the city didn’t abuse its power to force the closure of businesses I frequently patronized, like The Trophy Room, I might patronize Alexandria businesses more. But, because they do things like this, I’m no more likely to shop in Alexandria than I am in Annandale. In fact, I am less likely to shop in Alexandria because of it. While this is hypocrisy, I do not think Alexandria should practice what it preaches, nor should it be preaching “Buy Alexandria.”

Alexandria should put its focus on changing laws and regulations to make it more business friendly, rather than cling to an archaic notion of buying local. Then, Alexandria might see some real growth.

Answer me this, if I were a business owner, what would interest me more: (1) My city putting bumper stickers on cars encouraging residents and local citizens to buy from businesses located in Alexandria? Or, (2) a competitive city business climate — sensible regulations that aren’t onerous and costly and lower taxes?

My guess is most people would prefer the latter. Decreasing meter rates, as you are doing, is a good start to attracting more people to Alexandria.

Two old political adages are: “bumper stickers and yard signs don’t vote,” and that “people vote with their wallets.” Meaning, don’t waste your time on a buy local campaign. Help make Alexandria businesses as competitive as they can be with a better business climate, and people will come, Bill (Euille).

They’ll come to Alexandria for reasons they can’t even fathom — good prices. They’ll turn down King Street not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive in Alexandria as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $1.25 an hour to park. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have, affordable parking they lack and good prices on products & services they seek. And they’ll walk out to the docks in Old Town; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved benches somewhere along one of the piers, where they sat when they were children and watched ships pass by. And they’ll patronize Old Town like they used to, and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Bill. The one constant through all the years, Bill, has been prices. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But prices have marked the time. This town, this city: it’s a part of our past, Bill. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Bill. People will most definitely come.

(Can you tell I watched “Field of Dreams” recently?)

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5 Thoughts on “Do what Alexandria says, not what it does

  1. Gotta love what The Trophy Room owner did to stick it to the city.

  2. Oh yes, that was well played.

  3. I tried to check in at Alexandria, Va. and it directed me to Richmond, Va.

    FOURSQUARE ATTACK!

  4. HS friend and former local government employee Mike points out that the state could have purchased the vehicle, or state money could have forced Alexandria to purchase the vehicle from Capital.

    I did speak to the dealership, which confirmed Alexandria has bought from them, but whether it was a conscious choice to do so or a state mandate remains unclear.

    Though, I think my underlying point holds — buying local for its intrinsic “good” is flawed.

  5. Great post once again. The logic behind ‘buy local’ is so flawed that I often feel trying to enlighten those who hold the view that it’s beneficial is like trying to prove to someone that astrology isn’t a science or that pro wrestling is, well, it’s entertainment.

    In Philly’s central business district, particularly along South Street, ‘buy local’ stickers abound and calls for more and more ‘local farmer markets’ are increasing. Recently I had the opportunity to once again defend the free market and individual choice at a lunch and of course, I was the only one who ‘did not believe’. So I tried this though experiment with the table. “I’m going to open a food store, right here in Philly on South Street, called “Local Paul’s” and everything in my store will be 10% higher than anywhere else in the city. You’ll all come shopping right? My business will boom because you’ll want to be local, right?” Naturally, the laughs abound and the choruses of “of course not” reign in. “Why not?” I reply. “I’m local; I live around the corner; I’m not Superfresh or Whole Foods; not Target or Wal-Mart, so why not?” “Your prices are too high you idiot!” When I don’t reply with anything buy a wry smile, they get it. Just as Hayek says “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” As you say, the only effective way to improve business is to create an efficient and effective business environment that attracts firms. Money is mobile and it goes to where it’s used the wisest. Keep up the good work. – Paul

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