Micro-Business: Long Island's Hidden Economy

This is the season for fairs and festivals on Long Island. Support the vendors because they represent a micro-economy that plays out on the larger field of Long Island.

September and October are prime months for fairs and festivals here on Long Island. 

From the New York City line to the tips of the forks, there are gatherings of every description to suit every taste. They provide something interesting to do on a weekend, a chance to visit other places and times (at least in spirit), sample new foods and just have fun. 

This weekend will bring the Town of Hempstead Family Festival by the Sea at Lido Beach and the Nassau County Fair at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration, among others. Fairs also provide an opportunity to support Long Island's micro-businesses.

With the high unemployment rate, more and more energetic, determined people are relying on micro-businesses to make ends meet. These are the crafters, jewelers, bakers and various other vendors who you might meet as you stroll from booth to booth at any of these fairs. These are the thinkers and dreamers who are willing to work hard to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps by finding a way to start a business without the huge overhead of a brick and mortar business.

Many fair-goers will walk right past these vendors, turning their heads just enough to view their wares as if they are vaguely interesting exhibits in a museum, but never stopping to buy. Some people think that the prices are too high, so let's think this through... For hand-made jewelry and other crafts - making something by hand takes time, and these artisans deserve to be paid for the time they invest in creating their particular art-form. They don't have the economy of scale that the large stores have.  They can't "make it up in volume."

So, why is it that you can get things (particularly jewelry and toys) cheaper at another booth, or at a larger store? It's back to that hand-made factor.  One can find a pair of earrings made out of base metals and plastic "gems," assembled by some poor worker in Asia who earns $1.00 a day. That amounts to getting a piece of worthless junk, enriching the large company that imports the items and taking advantage of underpaid workers overseas.

When you buy handmade, local items, the odds are that you will get a superior product because the person selling it is often the person who made it and there is pride in having created a thing of beauty. That person probably lives right here on Long Island (or at least in the tri-state area). You are helping that person to earn a living so they can feed their family and pay their bills.  Your purchase might help keep one more foreclosed home off the market, which in turn keeps home prices from being artificially depressed. 

Supporting local artisans helps them to keep cash flowing in local businesses, which helps keep them open too, avoiding the rows of empty stores which make a "Main Street" look like a ghost town.

For food items - the ingredients are often locally grown or organic, both of which demand a higher price.  Why should these things be priced higher? In the case of organic foods, their production is more labor intensive, because they rely less on chemicals to minimize weeds, insects, etc. They also have to go through extensive beaurocratic processes in order to achieve organic certification, and that takes time and money too.

Locally produced fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats and more cost more because this is Long Island!  Think about your cost of living - property taxes, fuel, etc. Long Island farmers have to deal with the same issues that you do, except with a larger piece of land. 

So, why would they do it?  They do it (and we should support them) to keep tradition alive. They do it to keep some aspect of what Long Island was to our grandparents, to let local children have a place to learn what the food chain really is and what goes into that stuff that magically appears on our tables.  They do it to avoid urban sprawl taking place on the land that has been in their families for generations, and to save us from the traffic snarls that will result if the sprawl is allowed to spring up. 

Farmers help keep open land on this island, which helps keep our air cleaner and gives us something beautiful to look at.  Long Island farmers give children the opportunity to pick an apple or strawberry, or taste a juicy, tree-ripened peach (which bears no relation to the tasteless fuzz-covered rocks that are grown overseas and shipped to our stores).

I'm asking you to think about your neighbors, our children and the future of Long Island when you attend a fair or two over these next several weeks before winter secures its grip on us. Think about supporting them all by buying one of those museum pieces or luscious locally grown treats. Think about Long Islanders helping each other to have better lives.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Manny Martinez September 27, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Great article Mary! Thanks for taking to time to write it and raise awareness about micro and small businesses.
Mary Redler October 01, 2012 at 03:31 PM
I neglected to mention it in the article, but you can find a selection of Long Island artisans online at www.HandMadeLongIsland.com. The site was nominated for the LI Based Website category in the Best Of Long Island contest. You can vote for them at http://vote.longislandpress.com/engine/YourSubmission.aspx?contestid=71122


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