May 31, 2023

Buying local stimulates Maui County’s economy, sustains jobs and supports community

Consider the Maui travels of a $100 bill: It arrives as part of a hotel worker’s paycheck. He uses it to buy a plate lunch at a local food truck. The vendor takes $100 to pay for Maui onions. The Kula onion farmer uses $100 to help cover auto repair costs. The local repair shop owner adds the money to a mechanic’s paycheck, and he pays for a plate lunch at a local food truck.


This is the essence of buying local. Purchasing food and other goods that are produced here in Maui County stimulates our local economy, sustains local jobs, generates tax revenue for local government services, and supports our community, families and culture.


And, buying local is good for the planet.


According to the David Suzuki Foundation, headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, the average meal travels 1,200 kilometers, or about 750 miles, from farm to plate. (Multiply that distance many times for Hawaii.) Food grown locally generates less transportation emissions, and consumers benefit from fresher produce.


Of course, living on an island in the middle of the Pacific means that most of what we buy comes from somewhere else. Fuel, lumber, cars, trucks and packaged foods are just the beginning of a long list of products that need to be shipped or flown here.


Still, as consumers we can create demand for local products and help our friends, neighbors and island economy by buying local whenever possible. The success of locally owned businesses depends on the buying decisions of consumers. We can ask: Where did this product come from?


Such questions lead to tough choices, especially when trying to make ends meet under the strain of Hawaii’s notoriously high cost of living. For example, big box stores offer low prices through massive economies of scale. And, they create a dilemma for many local consumers. Do they send local dollars off island patronizing big box outlets? Or, do they invest in their community by buying local?


Many local businesses are surviving through hard work and ingenuity. They cultivate customer loyalty with neighborly customer service.


Local businesses also help support island nonprofits. For example, our local businesses and nonprofits stepped up to provide donations for community food drives during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the many benefits of buying local is the opportunity to develop friendships with business owners and their employees.


I recall a bygone era, growing up in Honolulu, beginning in the early 1970s. Dad loved eating a Rosie’s Lunch on Keeaumoku Street, just a short walk away from the Ala Moana Building and the flying-saucer-shaped La Ronde revolving restaurant on its 23rd floor.


Rosie’s was on corner near a Buddhist temple. About a dozen tables crowded into the diner, and menu featured Rosie’s mouth-watering cheeseburgers and fries.


Amid the rumble of traffic outside and the sizzle of meat, Rosie hunched over his grill, wearing a frayed apron and sweat and grease-stained undershirt. From an old radio came the drone of J. Akuhead Pupule and his “Coconut Wireless.”


Rosie’s was our introduction islanders, aloha and ‘ohana.


Being a sucker for nostalgia, I often yearn for something other than a low price and a contact-less environment. Convenience is fine, but give me a friendly word or a smile.


Buying local keeps dollars where they belong: right here on island. Remember how our spending decisions make or break local entrepreneurs, like our old friend Rosie.



About the author: Brian Perry grew up in Honolulu, graduating from Roosevelt High School and the University of Hawai‘i. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, Brian worked for five years at the Pacific Daily News in Agana, Guam. There, he met and married Claudine San Nicolas. In 1990, the couple moved to Maui to work as journalists at The Maui News. In December 2018, Brian left the newspaper to work four years as Director of Communications for Mayor Michael Victorino. Now, Brian and Claudine have established a communications and public relations business, Red Rice Maui LLC.