Take a quick look around your home, lift up a few items, and it’s likely you’ll see “Made in China” punched into the plastic of your alarm clock, or stamped on a sticker on the bottom of that lamp in your living room. That television, computer and cell phone you use daily probably came from the same place.
It’s not easy — and in some cases it’s impossible — to find American-made goods to use in place of those made mostly in Southeast Asia. But some local stores are making it a little easier to stock up on made in the USA products, and owners say it’s because of customer demand.
“More and more customers are asking, in fact demanding, American made,” said Linda Semmler, owner of Earth Inspired Living in Winter Park. “It makes sense to carry as much as we can, not only American made, but local.”
Her store, which specializes in home decorating goods, carries paintings by local artists, bags from Maine and home accessories from Oregon. Semmler focuses on stocking items that are reclaimed, recycled and sustainable. She said customers come in just because she has American-made products, and others are surprised when that stamp says USA rather than China.
Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s institute for Economic Competitiveness, said anytime there’s a recession and an economy is struggling to grow, nationalism develops and people want to support local more. While in theory it would have a greater impact on the economy to buy local, it just doesn’t happen enough. And Winter Park’s stores aren’t the norm.
“They’re an exception rather than the rule,” Snaith said. “This is a trend that has come in and out of fashion numerous times over the years, and if it was a long-standing phenomenon we wouldn’t be talking about it.”
There are benefits to going homemade — for every $1 that U.S. manufacturers spend, another $1.40 of economic activity is created. Buying local puts more dollars back into the community versus buying from big box national retailers. Semmler said she thinks the increase in demand for local products is due to people realizing that it’s important where they spend their money — they’re becoming socially conscious of the benefits of buying local.
“You’re making the money move in a much smaller circle,” Semmler said.
But the benefits do have a price, and it’s straight to the wallet. Local goods frequently cost more, and that’s why many consumers go for imports. There’s a reason Wal-Mart flourishes while the mom-and-pop stores close up shop, Snaith said.
“It’s a luxury not everyone can afford,” he said.
Scott Sturgill, who owns Durable Safety Products in Longwood, said he’d love to go American-made for his business’ manufacturing, but it costs 3.5 times more. Many customers inquire about American-made, but can’t justify the cost when they hear it. Companies are cutting back.
“At the end of the day the customer determines the price,” Sturgill said.
Benefits for retailers
But there are still business owners who can take that leap, especially when it comes to smaller retailers and online stores. An Internet search gets dozens of made-in-America specialty online shops. And quite a few Winter Park stores choose to carry some local items.
Sandra Lomowski, who owns Classic Iron Beds and Designer Linens in Winter Park, said it’s the quality that she loves about selling American. Many of her beds, which she’s been selling for 25 years, are guaranteed for two generations, and there’s never a time where the construction is in question.
“They’re craftsman,” she said. “They stand behind their product.”
There are lots of places in Winter Park to shop for local and American-made items, including: Earth Inspired Living, Classic Iron Beds and Designer Linens, The Doggy Door, DeVanes, Ace Metric Cycles, Downeast and Blue Door Denim Shoppe.
In Oviedo, TJ’s Seafood Shack serves mostly local produce and seafood, and at any time 70 to 80 percent of their menu is local.
It’s especially important for Semmler to know where her products come from. If they’re imports she makes sure they’re fair trade, and she knows all of her American-made manufacturers. She knows where the products come from, how the people who created them were treated, and if it’s environmentally safe. There’s less of an environmental impact in shipping just because it’s not coming from the other side of the world. She said it feels great to show people what she’s got on her shelves.
“It’s so important to be proud of what you do,” Semmler said.
It’s also all about supporting each other. Local business owners said they love shopping in their own towns. At TJ’s Seafood Shack in Oviedo, owner Tim Shepardson does most of his shopping at local farms. His menu is based on what’s in season. He said that at any time, 70 to 80 percent of the ingredients he serves were purchased locally. Many times, the gator tail on your plate that night at dinner came from his trip to the farm that morning. To him, it’s all about experiencing the flavor of the people he gets to meet when shopping for food.
“It’s all about taking care of each other,” Shepardson said. “You’re growing the neighborhood.”