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Keep Halifax weird

Shopping local is a great way to encourage the things that make our city unique, and it’s more about the mindset than the money.

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There's nothing like a crisis for making clear what matters most. "What's really important is for all of you to support your local businesses," premier Stephen McNeil told the province earlier in our coronavirus-shaped crisis. "Think local, buy local, support local. That makes us Nova Scotia strong and Nova Scotia proud."

McNeil nailed it, and has repeated the message consistently, with any luck erasing an anti-local sentiment that governments have perpetuated for decades in Nova Scotia. For too long, the provincial establishment has looked beyond our borders for economic salvation. Last century that meant wooing major employers like Michelin, Volvo and countless call centres here to exploit our workforce.

More recently has come the fixation on tourism, the convention centre and getting a CFL team for Halifax—all pre-pandemic businesses, highly dependent on close gathering and travel. (The movie business is an interesting hybrid, where big productions from away provide a base of jobs and training to support a nascent local filmmaking economy. It's also an industry McNeil actively worked to dismantle before COVID-19 came along, and one that came back and spent in Nova Scotia when we got control of the disease. But that's a discussion for the next premier.)

With governments looking over the horizon, people naturally got to work close to home, creating things, starting businesses, turning the province into an amazing place to live. As the capital of it all, Halifax is already a vibrant, interesting and, yes, weird city. When everybody's energy is focused close to home, watch for it to thrive. That's where McNeil's awakening is especially useful.

Buying local isn't as straightforward—or as limited—is it sounds. "I would certainly encourage people to take advantage of the many wonderful local Nova Scotian artists, artisans, craftspeople, et cetera," the esteemed public health doctor Robert Strang said the other day, sitting not-too-near the premier

He named the most important people to support: The people making things locally. Everything isn't made here, however, and the wider world has things worth bringing here (the headline on this article was inspired by Austin, Texas, for example). But even if you buy something that was made in Austin or Toronto or London, you're shopping locally if you get it at an independent shop, and that store's owner is making the street better just by being there.

Speaking of storefront presence, buying from a national chain with a retail shop in Halifax is better than buying from the same chain online, because the retailer pays rent and hires people locally. There's a hierarchy of more and less effective ways to shop local, and being in the mindset to look for your best possible option is more important than any individual purchase you might make. Just remember, at the very bottom of the list is that enticing, easy, billionaire Bezos' one-click Amazon. a

Local retail, restaurant, gym and salon owners are your neighbours, your teammates, your community. You might not always think of it this way—the province didn't always think of it this way—but whenever you spend time, attention or money with them, you are investing in your community. That's a lot of power, so use it well

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