Cinda Baxter has gotten tons of support since the veteran consultant and onetime retailer launched a March offensive in support of locally owned merchants.

Baxter and her cohorts at the 3/50 Project urge us at to pick three independent retailers and spend $50 apiece on them for starters. Times are tough.

Consumer spending amounts to about 70 percent of our economic output. If you spend a buck on local ducks, 70 cents stays in town, compared with 43 cents at a big-box, chain-store giant, according to Baxter.

I'll hit Welna Hardware or Fat Lorenzo's any day for a hammer or a pizza before heading to chain-owned Home Depot or Olive Garden.

"Ask consumers to frequent three local brick-and-mortar businesses they don't want to see disappear, and to spend a very affordable $50 per month," Baxter said. "It's about funneling revenue back into local business. The folks that pour money back into the community via commercial property taxes, payroll taxes, sales tax and salaries, not to mention all that good will by way of volunteer time. ..."

OK, I'll admit it: I've never been in a Wal-Mart store.

All I've ever done at the foreign-owned Mall of America is get lost looking for kids. But these outfits pay local taxes, too.

And you can carry this local logic a little too far ... into the world of protectionism.

I bank with Wells Fargo, which was the neighborhood depository at Lake Street and Nicollet when Dad opened a savings account for me in 1960. It's now a national conglomerate. Yet it has added thousands of Minneapolis jobs and helped revitalize once-rough neighborhoods that today are full of small shopkeepers.

Giants such as Supervalu, Target and Best Buy provide good jobs and import dollars from other states that support local headquarters jobs.

Americans love the concept of the small independent, but we don't always patronize them, said Akshay Rao, a professor of marketing and long-time student of consumer behavior at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

Free riders

"The small retailers are asking local customers to subsidize their battle with competitors," he said. "Will it work? It depends to the degree to which there are 'free riders.' I say, 'Neal, go patronize that independent hardware store while I go to Home Depot or Wal-Mart.' You care about the community, while I free ride.

"If you've got lots of free riders, you're toast. If you've got lots of people who care and want that independent in business, you'll be fine."

Buying small and local is great. And it's going to take more to deliver a better, sustainable economy.

We have learned that we can't sustain the old model of indebted consumers buying too much house or one more made-in-China flat-screen TV that we can't afford from Target, Wal-Mart or an electronics boutique. Greedy financiers didn't help. The debt bubble has burst and the bankruptcy courts are full of small fry.

The Chinese seem to be laying off millions of factory workers daily. They talk increasingly of cleaner technology, pollution control and local markets. They can't build a sustainable economy around dirty, export-based industries that kill their own people.

We can't sustain ourselves buying imported electronics on credit.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart in recent years also has become the world's biggest peddler of energy-efficient bulbs and consumer technology and joined some unions in advocating for universal health care, to the chagrin of liberal critics.

Wal-Mart will adapt. Corner stores that do a good job will thrive. The finance and retail sectors, which got bloated, are contracting.

Our long-term economic recovery will be rooted in thrift, home-grown energy/ technology and next-generation manufacturing.

It's spring. Time to shed some debt and calories and walk to the local hardware store.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 •