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Buying local in a global pandemic



My eight-year-old has been crying for days. Any mention of the coronavirus sets her off. She scared she’s going to infect the teachers at school, even though she’s not sick. She’s terrified of things she cannot articulate. Her stomach is nauseous, her face pale.

Parliament House Canberra (Getty Images/timstarkey)

Because anxiety is more catching than any coronavirus, I leave the house each morning before dawn and cycle through the cool March air, up and down the hills to the Brisbane River. I bike through the dark before my daughter wakes.

This morning there is fresh graffiti in the tunnel on the bike path: ‘No Income Still Pay Rent’. And it hits me like a punch in the gut: I still have a job, an income. I’m lucky. My university cancelled classes on campus, but we’ve all gone online and even though we moan about Zooming and discussion boards, at least we have a job to complain about.

The graffiti must’ve been sprayed last night after our federal government closed bars, restaurants and cafes yesterday at noon putting tens of thousands of people out of work in an instant. Luckily, the café on the bike path bridge in Brisbane is still open, though they’ve had to take the stools away. I ask the young men behind the counter how they’re coping. Their hours have all been reduced and they’re scared that the café could shut at any moment. They look stressed.

I meet up with the same women I always meet up with on the bridge and we stand at a social distance and talk about what everyone talks about these days: COVID-19. And then I tell them about the graffiti and we agree how lucky we are to still have jobs. Our conversation shifts from fear and disgust at social media to compassion as we brainstorm what we can do to try to keep the economy afloat at a safe social distance. We say our goodbyes and I bike home, where my daughter’s awake in bed in a foetal position, crying.

I hug her. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say and I want to tell her everything’s OK, but I don’t want to lie. And so I tell her a story about the café, about how when I left I tipped the baristas forty dollars because I’m still working and they don’t know how long they’ll have a job. I tell her how lucky we are, that we can use the money we have to support our local café in Toowong. They’re still doing take-away.


'We’ll get through today. And then we’ll get through tomorrow. And perhaps this is all we can do in a time of crisis: get through the day, be kind, and in turn feel better ourselves.'


She looks at me, sits up and reaches for her wallet. She takes out the $15. ‘I can spend this money,’ she says and almost smiles.

‘That’s right — we can buy smoothies at the café and this will help them.’ And there’s the gappy smile. She slowly gets dressed and goes to school, where the desks are set apart, where they’ll watch another video on how to wash hands, where all sport is cancelled. But she loves school — loves being around other kids and caring teachers.

We’ll get through today. And then we’ll get through tomorrow. And perhaps this is all we can do in a time of crisis: get through the day, be kind, and in turn feel better ourselves.

So how can you be kinder to your suburb? Lend your car to someone who used to wait tables at your local restaurant or cafe and is now delivering food. Purchase gift  cards for your local bookshop or boutique. If these stores survive, you can cash them in later, but right now they need money to pay rent.

If you can afford it, get takeaway, or use money that would’ve gone on swim lessons or sport for your kids and spend it at your favourite local shop. And I know this isn’t the Australian way, but in times like this, tipping an extra $10 or $20 may mean dinner for someone and their family.

In my experience, you never regret giving. And, selfishly, by giving we may just keep our favourite bookstores and cafes open for business when all this passes. It will pass.



Sarah KlenbortSarah Klenbort is a writer and sesional academic at Queensland University, where she teaches creative writing. She also teaches memoir at the Queensland Writers Centre. Sarah's work has appeared in Eureka Street, The Guardian, Best Australian Stories, Overland and other publications here and overseas.

Main image: Grafitti on the wall, 'No income, still pay rent'. (Sarah Klenbort)

Topic tags: Sarah Klenbort, COVID-19



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Existing comments

Great article! I want to keep buying local and support my favourite coffee shops. See you in the bridge!

Sarah | 25 March 2020  

There's a woman on U Tube who sings a positive little mantra/song. 'Every little cell in my body is happy/ Every little cell in my body is well' to the tune of Shortnin' bread. It's catchy and your daughter would love it. BTW I like your attitude.

Mary Round | 25 March 2020  

Yes. We. Must all do what we can. And however little it is, our widow’s mite will change the world in the end.

Joan Seymour | 25 March 2020  

I am very touched by your story Sarah. I am retired, my wife is secure in her 0.8 FTE teaching position, so we can meet our mortgage and buy the necessities of life. I was tempted to agree , "buy local", but Coles brought out our local supermarket about a decade back. Since then we have lost our beloved, friendly bakery and cafe, the florist,a bottle shop and other specialty shops. The locally owned butcher survives-but for how long? Our local shopping centre is dominated by this megalith. I have seen the checkouts automated, putting a whole lot of local women out of jobs. I will not use these automated machines on principle . I will bet they are losing quite a bit of income through customers ripping off the system. Given many locals are lowly paid, that's only fair! With one lonely lady trying to watch all the auto checkouts, the customers must be having a field day .Even at peak period only a few manual checkouts are manned, so I avoid shopping there, even on the odd occasion I have to buy something . Prices increased and increased until Aldi appeared on the scene . Oh how we welcomed Aldi , even though German owned. At least they gave Coles a run for their money with some decent competition. We do spend locally in the Takeaway, Chemist (both locally owned).The takeaway has to complete with another multinational takeaway next door! If there were other locally owned shops , they would have our patronage. Sarah, I'd love to spend in locally owned shops to help out the owners, but we have lost them to the Big Boys !

Gavin O'Brien | 25 March 2020  

There's a question whether our economy will be fundamentally different once this pandemic is finished. If the government does its job, the health care sector and government services will be expanded. Hopefully all those temporary, casual, insecure positions will be gone for good. This is an opportunity to build a new economy that works for everyone and deals with climate change.

Joanne Knight | 26 March 2020  

I feel for you and the little one, Sarah! But I can't think of a better mom to help her through this.

Maria | 26 March 2020  

All spending for personal goods and for some personal services is, regardless of whether times are good or bad, whether the consumer realises it or not, a decision on how to apply the virtue of charity, the more discretionary the spending the larger the range of how the virtue is, or is not, applied. The so-called equilibrium price between supply and demand derives from each moral decision of which retailer to support made by a multitude of free economic agents, free to use any philanthropic or self-servicing criteria they want until externally forbidden by compulsion of law or internally forbidden by moral sense inherited from the usual cultural producers of moral sense.

roy chen yee | 27 March 2020  

Sarah, beautiful writing. Enjoy your eight year old, for soon she will turn eighteen. You are so right - be kind, be generous, be your best. Your little girl will remember it. Just as my mother's voice, her kindness, her incredible generosity, speaks powerfully to me from long ago.

John Kilner | 28 March 2020  

Sarah, I was so moved by your account of your discussions with your daughter, and inspired by the suggestions of the little things we can do to support our local shops--buy a gift voucher and cash it in when times are better. Brilliant. And I really love the $40 tip for the baristas. Brava.

Jude Seaboyer | 03 April 2020  

Great article, Sarah! Thanks for writing with compassion and urging us to look out for each other and remain hopeful. This is such an important message.

Emily | 16 May 2020  

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