To be a good neighbor these days, you have to stay on top of many trends.

For example, there’s the “green” movement, which requires almost a thoughtless reaction of agreement whenever it’s mentioned, even though I have a hard time knowing what is “green” and what is not.

Does buying a $75 LED lightbulb to replace a $15 energy-guzzling halogen make me “green” or just careless with my money?

And there’s the push to drive “hybrid” vehicles, which is an offshoot of the “green” movement. Just having the word “hybrid” (or the tastefully conspicuous “h”) on a vehicle does tend to give the driver a bit of a puffed-out chest, even if he or she is driving a Tahoe, which I can’t believe is what hard-core “green” people really have in mind.

Then there’s the “local” or “locavore” movement, which is always described as a good thing, primarily because the idea of patronizing “local” businesses makes sense — if only “local” could actually be defined.

But just like with the “green” and “hybrid” movements, there’s plenty of wiggle room when trying to determine which businesses are local and which aren’t.

For example, can Wal-Mart or Target or Home Depot be “local” businesses? Clearly, they aren’t locally owned companies, but they employ lots of neighbors — and that is, or at least could be, a qualifier for being “local”.

It’s a question we all need to think about these days as the economy erases businesses large and small every day. Survival of the fittest can be a good thing, but it’s not an abstract concept — we as consumers ultimately control which companies live and which ones die. And indirectly, we control which neighbors remain employed and which don’t.

We owe it to our neighbors to give the definition of “local” some thought.

Beginning this month on our website, we’re launching a neighborhood directory to help connect residents with “local” businesses. Our Storefront, which you can access at, offers a place for neighborhood businesses to amplify their online presence and, if they choose, explain why the rest of us should consider them “local”. Storefront also gives neighborhood residents a handy online place to find “local” plumbers, electricians, Realtors, retailers and all kinds of other neighborhood services.

I hope you’ll check Storefront out — it’s a handy resource if you want to go online to find an Advocate advertiser or other neighborhood business — our goal is to list them all.  Our online Storefront sorts business categories by zip code and/or neighborhood, so you’re virtually guaranteed to find the closest “local” business when you need one.

And if you’re a neighborhood business owner, I hope you’ll make it easier for neighborhood residents to find you by building upon the basic information we have online, adding your website address, menu or list of services, photos, videos and more.

I can’t define “local” for you any more than you can define it for me. That definition involves each of us individually making that call and then determining the intrinsic value of going out of our way to support those businesses that we believe add something intangible to our neighborhood.

But even if we can’t all agree on a definition, this is the time and place to do something to keep “local” businesses from dying.