Shoppers Urged to Break Free of Chains

Date: 23 Nov 2004 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Independent businesses in two dozen cites joined forces to urge residents to “unchain” themselves on Saturday, November 20, by patronizing only locally owned stores and restaurants that day.

The event, dubbed America Unchained, was organized by the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA). The goal, according to AMIBA’s director Jennifer Rockne, was to broaden awareness of the local economic benefit of choosing to shop at locally owned businesses instead of chains.

Several studies, including one recently completed in Chicago, have found that a much greater share of the revenue taken in by independent stores stays within the local economy. “Hometown businesses use the goods and services of other local independent businesses and give back to community institutions far more than chains,? explained Rockne.

The idea originated with the Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA), which held a one-day shop-local event last year called Austin Unchained. “The message was last year, and the same message this year, is by making the choice to shop at locally owned businesses that one single day, you can add $14.4-million in the local economy,” explained Steve Bercu, owner of Book People and a founding member of AIBA, referring to a study the group commissioned to quantify the added local economic benefit of residents choosing locally owned stores over national chains for the day.

Austin Unchained was so successful that AMIBA decided to take the event national this year. The organization provided posters, shopping bag stuffers, buttons, talking points, press releases, and other materials to help local businesses promote the event in their own communities. Participants included Independent Business Alliances (IBAs) affiliated with AMIBA, as well as individual businesses in cities that do not yet have an IBA.

Many businesses added their own twist to the campaign. Phoenix Coffee in Cleveland offered regular customers a free pound of coffee it they brought a friend who normally patronizes Starbucks. “With Cleveland just named the poorest city in the nation, I think we really should be keeping our money here locally,” said owner Sarah Wilson-Jones.

The event aimed not only to communicate directly with customers, but also to generate discussion in local and national media. In several cities, multiple news outlets picked up the story. In Tampa, for example, it was covered by the St. Petersburg Times and members of the Tampa Independent Business Alliance were guests on a television show on the local Fox affiliate.

Each media opportunity gave business owners a chance to talk about the value of a strong locally owned economy. In an interview with the Arizona Republic, Lisa Huebner, owner of Arizona Mesquite Company in Chandler and founding member of Arizona Chain Reaction, discussed the donations independent businesses make to charities and community groups. “If you go to a chain, they want you to submit a letter to headquarters,” she said.

In an interview on News 14, a 24-hour cable news network in North Carolina, Cheryl Dorney of the Raleigh Independent Business Alliance said that chains may seem like a good deal in the short-term, but that supporting homegrown businesses provides significant long-term economic benefits. “It has been proven by studies three times more money goes into in the community when you shop at an independent store than at a chain store, Dorney explained.

  • American Independent Business Alliance
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Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which partners with a wide range of allies to implement policies that counter concentrated power and strengthen local economies.