During the week of July 4th, thousands of independent businesses in a dozen cities around the country celebrated Independents Week—seven days of educational and promotional events designed to draw attention to the importance of supporting locally owned businesses.
“The trend of chains displacing our hometown businesses will continue unless communities realize what’s at stake,” said Jennifer Rockne, director of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), which organized Independents Week.
Several national groups endorsed and participated in the celebration, including the American Booksellers Association, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, Association of Retail Travel Agents, Council of Independent Restaurants of America, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
The idea for Independents Week originated three years ago in Tampa, Florida, when Carla Jimenez, co-owner of Inkwood Books, enlisted about a dozen local retailers to join together for a week of drawings and other in-store events to highlight independent businesses and their contributions to the community and local economy. “As we celebrate our nation’s independence,” posters for the event read, “we invite you to join us in celebrating our great local independents.”
Independents Week drew front-page media coverage and was so successful that Jimenez decided to make it an annual event. Each year more businesses signed on to participate. This year, they decided to form the Tampa Independent Business Alliance (TIBA), with an intitial membership of 75 locally owned businesses, and to join AMIBA.
TIBA kicked off Independents Week this year by hosting an outdoor concert and fundraiser. At TIBA’s urging, Tampa’s mayor and city council issued a proclamation declaring the week Independents Week. TIBA also hosted a community forum in which residents and business owners talked about the future of Tampa’s locally owned businesses and ways to protect the city’s character and sense of place. Several local newspaper, television, and radio outlets covered the week’s events.
Impressed with Independents Week, AMIBA took the event national this year, providing tools to help its other local affiliates organize Independents Week celebrations in their own communities.
In Austin, Texas, the 200-member-strong Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA), blanketed the city with posters featuring a patriotic armadillo and challenged residents to shop only at locally owned businesses during the week. Those who gathered the most receipts from local businesses won gift certificates from AIBA members.
Independents Week is part of a broader educational campaign by AIBA to build awareness of the difference between chains and independents. “We just constantly keep the message out and reinforce it,” said AIBA member Steve Bercu, who owns BookPeople. “We’ve gotten people talking about the independents and their value. That’s the most important part.”
In Hudson, Ohio, more than 50 local businesses ran newspaper ads calling on residents to “dare to live a week without malls.” They organized a scavenger hunt, held drawings for gift certificates to local stores, and, on the final day, brought residents together to link arms to form a giant circle around the downtown—a show of support for Main Street and a symbolic act organizers hope will spur opposition to a November ballot initiative that would open the way for big box development.
In St. Louis, Missouri, Build St. Louis, a fledgling independent business alliance, celebrated Independents Week with special events and community fundraisers held at different local businesses each night of the week. BUILD set-up a poster exhibit at each event listing the top ten reasons to choose locally owned businesses over chains. “This is a fun celebration of all of our great independent businesses,” said BUILD director Michael Levinson. “But it’s also about preserving economic freedom and local self-reliance, values that go back to the very beginning of this country.”
AMIBA’s next big national event will be Unchain US, a one-day event in November in which the organization will be calling on Americans to ditch chains for the day and seek out locally owned, independent businesses. Contact AMIBA to find out about getting involved.