Urban Tulsa Weekly, June 26, 2013
Coming to Tulsa from Los Angeles, Danica Jones wasn’t sure what to expect from her husband’s hometown. She’s married to Tulsa native Seth Lee Jones. The couple met in Los Angeles, where he honed guitar-building and repair skills working for a guitar shop.
But the goal was to start his own business — which seemed tough to do in California given the high cost of living and stagnant economy, Danica Jones said — so the couple came to Tulsa about two years ago.
“Coming to this community, my husband was welcomed with very open arms, and there’s just a huge support system for locally-owned businesses out there,” Danica Jones said.
Through her choices as a consumer, she also makes it a point to be a part of that support.
“We eat at local restaurants only. We don’t eat at any chain restaurants,” she said. It’s just one example of her effort to support local businesses. “Anything we buy, we try to shop as locally as possible,” she said.
A social media consultant, Danica Jones created a page on social networking site Pinterest.com showcasing “Tulsa Finds” to help others seek out Tulsa-grown businesses.
Her concerns include a worry about the ethical treatment of workers, something that can be hard to judge with multinational corporations, as well as a desire to support other local businesses.
Among the people she knows, “if they haven’t already developed the sentiment, I can see the change starting to happen,” she said.
Such a change, should it take root, would doubtlessly make many in the local business community happy. Efforts have been undertaken in recent years to coordinate marketing and media campaigns geared toward convincing Tulsans and Oklahomans to support local businesses, but it’s not easy to sustain such efforts.
Keith Skrzypczak (pronounced SCRIP-jack), head cheese here at Urban Tulsa Weekly, is a passionate advocate of all things local, starting with what it means to be local.
“You know, you’ve got to be from somewhere,” he said. “You see if the Lakers are playing, you see Nicholson there. He goes to where his hometown team plays. And we’re our home team.”
That home team — UTW itself — is not only something he’s proud of, but it’s something he feels has had a great impact on the whole local movement.
“As the longest-running locally owned, legitimate news and information organization, it’s a great testament to what we do and how we serve,” Skrzypczak said. “So many people tell me, ‘If it weren’t for Urban Tulsa, this would be a boring place.'”
And he feels like that is one of the good things that local businesses bring to where they are, citing the new ideas and creative concepts that come from the people with the drive to do their own thing.
“People who have the imagination and creativity and willpower to make it happen have helped Tulsa become a better place,” he said. “Those of us who can and want to do that in our hometown are a growing breed.”
UTW is one of hundreds of local businesses that think, act, and dream local, but Skrzypczak said it’s all about serving a need, since people aren’t go to buy local if the local product offered sucks compared to something less Tulsa-centric.
“When we started, there was a need for what we were giving,” he said. “We were always about community and the local bands and arts and things and community continuity. We write about things to this day that we all share. We’ve always pitched on that side. Of course, we’re not going to do an Urban Oklahoma City or an Urban Dallas or Urban Hollywood.”
In a similar vein, Chuck Mai, the vice president of public affairs for AAA-Oklahoma, looks to make sure people know that a great vacation doesn’t mean traveling to the other side of the globe necessarily.
“We’ll send you around the world on a cruise,” he said of AAA’s travel agency branch, “but we’re also supporters of local tourism. We’re trying to dispel this myth that you have to travel 1,000 miles to have a great vacation.
Does it matter?
Stacy Mitchell, author of Big-Box Swindle, is director of what’s called the Independent Business Initiative, a part of the Minneapolis- and Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
She pointed to a study done in Austin, Tex. about 10 years ago done by a consulting firm called Civic Economics.
“What they find is a much larger share of the money stays in the local economy. One of the primary reasons for that is local businesses tend to buy goods and services from other local business,” Mitchell said, describing how large corporations, for example, might have accounting services done at a far-off headquarters rather than procuring a local tax firm.
“I don’t think anyone disputes those findings,” Mitchell said. “I’ve certainly heard an economist try to say it doesn’t matter, and I would disagree with that.”
Austin’s Melancon has first-hand knowledge of the Civic Economics study, and went further into the numbers it demonstrated.
“It showed that if you spend $100 at a local business, three times the money stays in our community than if you spend it at a chain store,” she said. “Since then, similar studies have gone on all over the nation. Since we did that study, there have been so many of them that said the same thing.”
Mitchell also cited other advantages to the buy-local movement, claims that move beyond the purely economic.
“I also think local businesses create the kind of vibrant neighborhood business districts that promote interaction among people,” Mitchell said.
Buying (into) local
Asked if it matters much to customers that Ann’s Bakery is now a locally-owned business — and a multi-generational one at that, with four generations of the same family involved — Harris expressed some uncertainty.
“I don’t know. I would hope so. I would hope the trend gets better,” Harris said.
One effort she said that may help businesses, apart from any big campaign or discount card, is to develop a strong social media presence.
“I think people want to feel connected to who they’re buying from,” Harris said. An idea recently came to her from a Facebook follower to recreate a classic photograph from 1946 depicting a long line out the door of the bakery.
Harris said about 150 people came to the bakery to participate in the photograph.
“We had people show up, I definitely didn’t know,” Harris said. But they were eager to share how they cared about Ann’s Bakery. “‘I’ve been getting cakes here for 35 years,”” Harris recalled one person at the event telling her. “They do feel a part of the bakery because it’s been here for so long.”
One some level, whether it’s customers or fellow business owners, it’s all about forging some kind of connection.
Danica Jones said one of the things that’s impressed her about Tulsa is how social networking makes clear that there is a tight-knit business community.
“Tulsa seemed to be kind of a hotbed for a lot of local businesses realizing they could connect with other local people,” Jones said, describing the effect as “kind of creating a tighter network of, ‘I’ll support you, if you support me.'”
Bandy, with the Keep It Local OK program, sells the cards online and the business has also developed a mobile phone app to help shoppers find participating businesses more easily.
One key measure of the effort’s success is the number of cards purchased, however — and that number has increased dramatically, according to Bandy. He said that about 3,000 cards were sold or given away in the program’s first year. While Harris said she was given cards as a goodwill gesture, Bandy said roughly 14,000 cards have been distributed so far this year.
“It kind of feels like it’s becoming a little more mainstream,” Bandy said. To him, it seems that there are shoppers “more aware of it now than they ever were.”
He said the company tries to recruit businesses that have a certain uniqueness to them. So far, the company lists 21 Tulsa sites offering the cards. The idea is to keep the circle relatively small, he said.
“What we found out is — and it’s amazing — is that the card holders, a lot of them are very proud of it,” Bandy said.
Ultimately, Bandy said he doesn’t “want to speak so much about a discount, but we really want it to be about people taking pride in their communities.”
Yes, there are times when you’re going to go to BestBuy to get the newest Xbox. You can’t get a Texas Roadhouse steak at a locally-owned steakhouse. And there are those people out there, God help them, who crave McDonald’s fries specifically, and no matter how good Brownie’s homemade root beer is, those fries aren’t going to do the trick for those poor, lost McDonald’s lovers.
But like Melancon’s shift-10-percent idea, consumers need to consume thoughtfully (boy, there’s an idea, right, ‘Merica?). Because there are great things happening at local joints.
Just ask Skrzypczak.
“We come up with great ideas all the f—–g time. We’re a small-shop dynamo,” he said. “Local places like us with lots of smart people — that’s why those guys are successful. We’ve made Tulsa a happier, better, more exciting place. I’m very proud of that.”
Read the full story here.