More than 250 independent businesses in and around the city of Bellingham in northwest Washington have joined together to urge residents to “think local first” when shopping.
Organized by Sustainable Connections, a coalition of locally owned businesses, the campaign aims to build public awareness of the benefits of supporting homegrown enterprises. “People don’t always make the connection between their quality of life and the choices they make through their purchases,” said Sustainable Connections director Michelle Long.
The campaign kicked off in early December and has already become very visible within Bellingham and Whatcom County. Its eye-catching logo, which features Mount Baker and the words, “think local, buy local, be local,” now appears on hundreds of storefronts, posters, tee-shirts, bumper stickers, flyers, and newspaper advertisements.
Sustainable Connections provided every participating business owner with a kit that includes tips on how to promote the campaign; a fact sheet on the top ten reasons to support local businesses; a poster to display in their stores; and a window decal with the campaign’s logo.
The kit also included six different thank-you cards for business to give to their customers. Each includes a unique message about why supporting locally owned businesses is good for the community. One, for example, reads “Local businesses are owned by people who live in this community, are less likely to leave, and are more invested in the community’s future.”
Participating businesses also received a listing on the campaign’s website (www.ThinkLocal.org) and were supplied with master copies of the campaign logo, which they’ve been reproducing in their own advertising and in-store marketing.
Small businesses “tend to be more flexible, more attuned to what their neighbors need and want, and they tend to give more to charitable organizations,” said Kathy Van Winkle, manager of Griggs Office Supply, explaining her message to customers. “The more you spend your money with local businesses, the more those dollars stay in the community.”
To get the campaign off the ground, Sustainable Connections created a month-long contest in which residents gathered receipts from local businesses. Those who collected the most win prizes. The two runners-up get $100 gift certificates good at any participating business. The grand prize is a month of daily free meals at locally owned restaurants. More than 100 people have entered the contest, according to Long. The winners will be announced in a few weeks.
The campaign has received extensive coverage from local radio, the Bellingham Herald, and the Bellingham Weekly, and participating businesses say it’s beginning to affect residents’ purchasing decisions.
Long notes that businesses that have gone the extra mile to highlight their role in the local economy are getting the most from the campaign. Village Books, for example, has been promoting local authors, while La Fiamma Wood Fired Pizza has invited producers to talk about the local ingredients used in its pizzas.
Sustainable Connections plans to expand the campaign in the coming year with special seasonal celebrations and a local business directory.
Sustainable Connections is affiliated with the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), a two-year-old national network of small, sustainable businesses that are dedicated to rebuilding their local economies. BALLE has affiliates in several communities. Buy local campaigns are in the planning stages in Salt Lake City; Philadelphia; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco; and British Columbia. BALLE will host a national conference in Philadelphia in May.