Eugene Weekly : News : 11.26.08

Recycling Our Bucks
Alt-weeklies seek to help the economy
by Ted Taylor

The “buy local” movement is growing nationwide, and Eugene Weekly in this issue is publishing a gift guide that focuses on supporting local businesses, products and services. The concept is not new, but the downturn in the U.S. economy has stimulated more interest in spending wisely and keeping money circulating in communities rather than supporting national and international chains. 

Joining in the effort this year, along with EW and the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, is the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. AAN has organized 73 alternative newspapers around the country, including EW. Readers of these papers are being urged to spend at least $100 of their holiday money at locally owned stores in their communities — a move that could pump more than $2.9 billion into urban economies during this recession-plagued season. 

The project is based on data showing that money spent in locally owned businesses tends to stay in the area and circulate through the community, increasing economic activity. Economists call this the “multiplier effect.”

 “If every one of the 17.5 million readers of these weeklies were to spend just $100 with local, independently owned merchants, the impact would be enormous,” says Jody Colley, publisher of the East Bay Express in Berkeley/Oakland and the originator of the project.

EW, for example, has about 90,000 print readers, according to Media Audit. If each of those readers were to spend an extra $100 each month at locally owned businesses, gross revenues for those businesses would increase by $9 million a month. That revenue would be lost to national chain stores and would affect jobs at those stores. But according to AAN, “for every $100 spent at a locally owned store, $68 will stay in the community, while if that $100 was spent at a non-local chain, only $43 would stay in the community.” The $25 difference would circulate in the community, creating more jobs and economic stability. 

The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) helped develop the unprecedented project. AAN helped line up 73 papers in the U.S. and Canada. Large mainstream newspapers, which rely heavily on national advertising, have not organized a similar campaign.

“This is an incredibly exciting and unprecedented effort by the press to reach out and work with the local economic development community,” says Erin Kilmer-Neel, program officer at OneCalifornia Foundation, and active member in both BALLE and AMIBA. “In my mind, this can be a perfect partnership — local, independently owned publications helping other local indie businesses in their community toward positive economic change.”

“When people choose to shop at locally owned, independent businesses in their communities, they are re-circulating dollars in those communities,” she says, “supporting more local jobs, keeping their neighborhoods interesting and unique and reducing their carbon footprints.

 “We came out in the millions to make change by voting. Conscious shopping, like voting, is a powerful way to make change. Collectively, we will continue to spend billions and billions of dollars as we shop throughout our lives — imagine the power that this money can have if each one of us tries to be conscious about where it goes.”

 The move is “simply part of our mission as a newspaper,” says Tim Redmond, executive editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, one of the early supporters of the project. “A sustainable community needs a sustainable economy, and that starts with locally owned independent businesses.”

The campaign targets the holiday shopping season since for many retailers holiday sales account for about 40 percent of their annual sales, and about 75 percent of their profits. But some communities are promoting the buy-local message year-round; and some city governments have carried the idea into city planning codes, banning big box stores and shopping malls as a way to support locally owned retail enterprise.

 The Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce is kicking off a shop local campaign for the holiday season. The campaign includes posters for business windows thanking customers for shopping locally, free gift wrapping and advertising on radio.  

Contributing national information and quotes to this story was Richard Karpel, executive director of AAN; and Jody Colley, publisher of East Bay Express.