Shopping locally: an exploration of motivations and meanings in the context of a revitalized downtown

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jennifer L. Wilson (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Nancy Hodges

Abstract: The purpose of this dissertation was to understand the phenomenon of shopping locally from the perspective of the consumer and the store owner and within the context of a revitalized downtown. The three objectives of this study were: (1) to explore the reasons why consumers choose to shop locally in revitalized downtowns, (2) to investigate the reasons why store owners choose to operate within the revitalized downtown, and (3) to consider the implications of shopping locally within the revitalized downtown context for the broader community. Few studies examine the significance of shopping locally and what this means for downtown revitalization. Therefore, this dissertation fills a gap in the academic literature by exploring the experiences of consumers who shop locally and local retail owners who establish businesses within the downtown. An ethnographic approach to research was used to address the purpose of this study. Data collection methods included in-depth and field interviews, observation, digital methods and photography. A total of 9 field sites were observed within a single downtown area, including a coffee shop, a bookstore, a brewery, and boutiques. A total of 30 in-depth interviews and 49 field interviews were conducted with shoppers, store owners, and representatives from community partnership organizations. Specifically, what local shopping means for consumers and why the downtown is distinctive for local shopping was examined. For business owners, the reasons they are drawn to the downtown area and the ways in which they help to build community were explored. Data were analyzed for similarities and differences which were then used in the development of the thematic interpretation. Three conceptual areas surfaced and were used to structure the interpretation: Understanding the Significance of Place, Understanding the Significance of People, and Understanding the Significance of Practices. Within each conceptual area, the themes that emerged through the analysis of data collected for this dissertation were interpreted and the concepts important to each theme were presented. The conceptual and theoretical significance of the interpretation was then considered in relation to literature on the topic and through the lens of practice theory. Findings indicate that local shopping is more complex than what may appear and that people who shop locally share an interest in supporting the community. Thus, local shopping can be considered an act of civic engagement. Equally, findings reveal that a sense of community can be created between shoppers and store owners and/or employees through the phenomenon of local shopping. Moreover, according to the findings of this dissertation, the place where people shop is important, in that the combination of the relationships and the unique sense of place contributes to the distinctiveness of the shopping local experience. In relation to store owners, findings indicate that civic engagement is significant not only in their reasons for owning and operating a store, but also in the camaraderie built among them. As this study reveals, the presence of retail in the downtown area is helping to reenergize a once forgotten part of the city. Shoppers and store owners alike talked about the importance of the downtown area and specifically the buzz that emanates from downtown because of the businesses that have set up shop there. This study is the first to consider how practice theory frames the meanings of local shopping, as it considers the reasons for and circumstances that surround local shopping and considers how the phenomenon can serve the greater good. By examining the motivations and meanings of the experience of shopping local through the lens of practice theory and the conceptual areas of place, people, and practices, it becomes clear that individuals who make the choice to shop locally are doing more than just “shopping.” Findings highlight the complex nature of local shopping through the functional, social, economic, aesthetic, and community factors involved with the practice. Although this study addresses major gaps in the literature, it also points to the need for further research into the relationships between local shopping, consumers, retail store owners and a revitalized downtown.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2018
Downtown Revitalization, Local Ownership, Local Retail, Local Shopping, Sense of Place
Central business districts
Urban renewal
Small business
Consumer behavior
Consumer movements

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