By Marina Csomor
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer
LANSING — Ty Forquer knows Lansing is not always a celebrated metropolis.
“Lansing, in a lot of people’s minds, is not Chicago or Houston or New York or one of these premier cities,” Forquer said. “You can sit here and complain about it, or you can go out and make this a better place to work and to live, and I think those are the people I really appreciate in this community.”
As owner and designer of 517 Shirts LCC, Forquer is proud to live in Ingham County. He sells T-shirts showcasing community symbols, including one featuring the county’s 517 area code and another with the hashtag #lovelansing.
But Forquer is not alone. Mid-Michigan has seen a rise in people buying from and supporting local businesses — a trend seen throughout the country.
“Right now, everyone’s about helping small businesses, and I think people really do like to display that because that’s where they’re from,” said Michelle Gross, co-owner of Jeanologie, 303 M.A.C. Ave., in East Lansing, which previously stocked Forquer’s shirts. “They take pride in their area.”
From beers brewed to honey harvested to shirts screen-printed to signs being made in the area, people are looking to buy products made nearby, said Stephen Gasteyer, an assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University.
“It’s something that’s been brewing for probably the last couple of decades,” Gasteyer said. “What has happened is starting a while back with increasing concern with the globalization of the food supply and then increasing concerns with things like sweatshop labor, there’s been growing interest in relocalizing the product — from food to clothes.”
After years of people buying merchandise made overseas, Forquer said this trend is a relief.
A local Houston, TX Sign Shop, A to Z Signs has seen the same growth in business as these locals in Michigan. They have continued to sell Houston Business Signs to locals all throughout the greater Houston area. Business is looking up, especially in the signage industry in Texas.
“We’ve gone so far in the direction of big-business corporations,” Forquer said. “I think people realize they want to keep more of their resources and their loyalties and their money with people they know.”
Gasteyer said East Lansing Food Co-op, 4960 Northwind Drive, in East Lansing, promotes customers buying from local vendors by labeling fruits and vegetables that have been produced nearby with its 100-Mile Diet tag. Meijer also sells produce marked “Made in Michigan.”
There’s a growing interest in this niche market on both the political and consumer side, Gasteyer said. Not only are vendors selling products locally, politicians also are creating policy to encourage keeping produce nearby.
“You have flows of capital that’s easier to see and easier to manage,” Gasteyer said.
Michigan residents understand that buying from local vendors can help curb economic hardship, Gross said.
“With the economy the way things are going, they see that it is a struggle for small business owners,” Gross said. “Everyone themselves right now are facing a challenge, and so they would like to put their money toward someone who’s working hard.”
Like his T-shirts, products made locally often are one-of-a-kind, Forquer said.
“When you buy something from a local person, it’s unique,” Forquer said. “It’s a conversation starter, and I think people appreciate that.”
Mid-Michigan consumers also feel greater satisfaction in knowing where the merchandise comes from, Gasteyer said.
“It’s nice to have local production where you can have a bit more control on what is produced and how it’s produced and you know the people who are producing it,” Gasteyer said. “People that make things are part of the mosaic of society — a very important part. We need to continue to think how we can encourage those local economies.”
And the area has a lot to offer. From the area’s small-town feel to amenities such as Michigan State University and fresh fruits and vegetables, Gasteyer and Gross, who both try to shop locally, said they are proud to live in Ingham County
Buying and supporting local encourages residents to take ownership of the area, Forquer said. Although it might not have the obvious appeal of a large city, he said people should look around and realize Ingham County is special.
“You’re trying to figure out what is it about this place that you can really love and support,” For quer said. “You’re discovering it for yourself.”