The spirit of “buy local” is as strong as ever. It’s the practice that often falls short.

As a key state economic indicator has lagged in the recovery from the latest recession, the shop-local campaigns, which exploded in popularity in 2008 and 2009, may be feeling the pinch.

Real disposable personal income, the state’s broadest measure of consumer spending, has not risen at the rate of previous recoveries. Donald Klepper-Smith, chief economist and director of research at DataCore Partners, said consumers look for bargains when disposable income is tight.

“I think that’s what we’re seeing,” Klepper-Smith said. “Where is the best deal? Consumers are incited by products and services that offer good value.”

Klepper-Smith, citing data provided by the U.S. Commerce Department and Connecticut Labor Department, said state disposable income typically rises an average of 4 to 5 percent each year following a recession. After 2 percent growth in 2014 and 2015, it slipped to 0.5 percent in 2016 and is projected to rise just 0.8 percent in 2017.

“There’s not a lot of extra cash lying around at the end of the month, so consumers will try to stretch the dollar as much as possible,” Klepper-Smith said.

Online competition

Small businesses, whose products are typically more costly than national big-box chains, are now feeling added pressure from online retailers. While store-based sales continue to slip, online retailers such as Amazon are grabbing a higher share of total sales. Amazon, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, accounts for about 5 percent of all retail sales, not including food. That number is expected to climb.

Danni DiElsi, owner of The Silk Touch flower shop on Main Street in Norwalk, longs for the days of people walking the streets supporting local businesses.

“The internet is taking over. People don’t like going out anymore. It’s like pulling teeth to get people to come out these days,” she said. “I’m all for it (buying local) and for more of it, but no one wants to walk anymore. I like the specialty shops like there used to be. But you can’t stay open unless people come in to buy things.”

Buying local can mean a variety of things. Mom-and-pop shops are the classic example with local owners operating small stores or service companies, but other local businesses can be hiding in plain sight.

Franchises are often owned and operated by local people, although they pass on a percentage of sales to the national office. Small restaurants, delis and food trucks are typically owned by local businesspeople.

Jasson Arias, owner of Rice and Beans food truck, grew up in Danbury, attended Danbury schools and now operates his business in the Hat City. Part of his mission is to give back to the community and he often holds fundraisers through #eatjustice.

“The more successful I am the more I can give back,” Arias said. “Shopping local does matter. You can impact the community by making a conscious decision on where you spend your money.”

Arias will hold a benefit during lunch in front of the Danbury Library on Tuesday, July 25. He hopes to raise $1,000 to purchase backpacks and school supplies for Danbury students.

Unique offerings

Brian Griffin, vice president of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, said the movement is not limited to small businesses.

“We are continually in the buy local mind-set — and that applies not only to small business, but larger companies and corporations, as well,” he said. “I am not sure that people always understand how important this is as these businesses are the ones that employ local and area residents, the ones who support the local nonprofits, and the ones who are always there to help the local community, not to mention tax relief for the residents.”

The movement also means local businesses supporting other local businesses, said Nelson Merchan, a business adviser with the Connecticut Small Business Development Center. He said several Danbury-area businesses “go out of their way” to use local vendors.

Merchan said small, locally owned businesses typically offer better customer service than big-box retailers and have unique products or concepts. He cited several recent openings on Main Street in Danbury as examples of unique businesses.

“The people behind these businesses are making sure that they offer something unique to attract more clients,” Merchan said.

Locally produced

An entrepreneur from Danbury has taken the buy-local concept to another level. Not only does Meagan Cann sell products such as apparel, jewelry and soaps, she knows the makers of all her products and often holds workshops featuring the designers and artisans.

Consumers won’t find $5 shirts or $10 jeans at the Workspace Collective, but most of the products are made by hand in Connecticut or nearby New York. Cann is banking on the “Who Made My Clothes?” movement and interest in products made in a sustainable way to bring customers to her small shop in downtown Danbury.

Merchan said Cann’s concept should resonate with millennials.

“They want to feel connected to the products they consume,” he said.

Millennials are also the group most likely to make purchases online, according to a report by analytics company comScore.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said his city has made a conscious effort to try to help small-business owners in gain access to capital and find other resources. Danbury is also home to several big-box stores and one of New England’s largest and most successful shopping malls.

“Everything we do is focused on local business. Large business that have thousands of locations, they know how to operate a business plan and get access to capital. We want to help the small businesses,” he said. “Small business is the No. 1 employer in our area and we encourage people to visit the local spots.”