A new coalition of more than 70 independent businesses in the Phoenix metro area is urging residents to “Think Independently, Buy Locally.”
The coalition, known as Arizona Chain Reaction, grew out of a conversation between Michael Monti, owner of Monti’s restaurant, and Kimber Lanning, owner of Stinkweed, an alternative music store. At first, they simply wanted to get about ten local businesses together to buy advertising as a group. The ads would include a message about the importance of local ownership and feature each business.
The idea was to have ten businesses that were very different, but that all face a common threat from corporate retailers. “Here I was with my ‘good old boy’ steakhouse and Kimber with her alternative record store populated by kids wearing tee-shirts protesting the WTO,” said Monti.
The idea evolved and eventually became Arizona Chain Reaction, an alliance of independent businesses dedicated to raising public awareness of the importance of local ownership. Membership is free and open to all locally owned businesses in Arizona (but the group focuses primarily on the Phoenix metro).
“We want to remind people where they can find independents and why they should go to them,” said Monti. He stresses that Arizona Chain Reaction is still in its infancy. So far, the group has produced a window decal (“Think Independently, Buy Locally”) that members display on their storefronts, a web site that serves as a searchable directory of locally owned businesses, and a listserv for members to communicate and share ideas.
Since membership is free, these initiatives have been funded by passing the hat. Keeping Arizona Chain Reaction free and informally managed (the group has no board of directors or committees) is essential to its success, the founders believe. Many small business owners are struggling financially and few can spare time to serve on a committee or go to meetings.
To help with recruitment, the group has developed a card that highlights why locally owned businesses are important to the local economy and encourages business owners to join. Members carry the cards and hand them out to other business owners.
The group has been covered by local newspapers and radio and television stations. During the week of July 4th, the local public radio station played a free ad for Arizona Chain Reaction for every two sponsorship spots purchased by one of the coalition’s members.
The reaction from the public has been very encouraging so far. “People are very uneasy about what’s happening in the economy,” noted Monti. “We’re generating interest from all sides of the political spectrum. That’s important I think, because it represents a sea change that is underway.”