Breeding business biodiversity
‘LOCAL’ group seeks to rally support for independent ‘mom and pops’

A sign thanking customers for patronizing a local independent business hangs on the door overlooking Magpie’s Newsstand ‘s patio during a typical day at the downtown coffee shop. After a year in the works, an organization callling itself LOCAL has formed with the intent of promoting and raising awareness of the benefits of buying from local independents./Photo by David Halterman

by Missy Votel

As the nation treads turbulent financial waters, a local group is working to divert more dollars into local establishments.

“Our motto is ‘Keep our dollars flowing in La Plata County,’” said local business owner Tim Wheeler. He, along with a handful of other business owners and the Fort Lewis College Environmental Center, recently founded La Plata Organizations for Cooperatively Advocating Local – more simply known as “LOCAL.”

More than a year in the making, LOCAL’s founders see the group as a way for locally owned, independent businesses to join forces in educating consumers on the benefits of supporting local businesses. Among those benefits touted by the group are the creation of more jobs, higher sales tax revenues and the preservation of Durango’s unique character.

“It keeps us from looking like Anywhere, USA,” said Wheeler. “This, in turn, supports tourism and creates a biodiversity of business rather than a corporate monoculture.”

In addition, buying local also leads to the “multiplier effect,” whereby dollars spent at locally owned businesses are recirculated rather than “leaked” out of the community. Wheeler said it is this last factor that is especially important during times of economic downturn, such as now. “With the price of gas and the financial market crisis, this will help all of us by building insulation against the storm out there,” he said.

Currently operating under the umbrella of the Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado, LOCAL is part of a growing national movement, with similar programs in Santa Fe, Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver and Bellingham, Wash., to name a few. One of the most popular ways of promoting locally owned businesses is a coupon book, which LOCAL plans to debut in November, just in time for the holiday shopping season, Wheeler said. A similar book in Fort Collins, which costs around $15, offers nearly $2,000 in savings and has been wildly successful there. “The book is really a win-win-win,” said Wheeler. “It raises awareness to think about local independent businesses, it provides something to the person who buys it, and it drives people into the business that participates.”

The work of LOCAL will dovetail with two other local organizations: the Chamber of Commerce and La Plata Economic Development Partnership. Wheeler said when talks of forming an independent business alliance began a few years back, it was discovered that several local entities had a stake in a buy-local movement. As such, everyone decided to combine efforts, the result being the “Look Local First” campaign. Launched this month, “Local First” will be a cooperative approach, with the chamber and LEAD heading up a “La Plata Loyalty” promotion, and LOCAL working on the coupon book. It is hoped the book will be an annual occurrence, and proceeds will be used to further LOCAL’s efforts by hiring staff and offering more programs.

Wheeler said there are a number of ways to participate in LOCAL. Already, 19 local businesses have anted up $1,500 apiece as founding members to get the project rolling. The money has been used to hire a part-time project manager, Juliet Whitfield, as well as a local designer to work on the book. So far, Whitfield said response has been good. “People are really interested,” she said. “It’s a new thing for the area.”

However, she notes there are some who “run the other way when they hear ‘coupon,’” and for them, there is the option of buying a “story” in the book. “Story pages are great for organizations like nonprofits or energy companies,” she said. “Maybe the rest of the world doesn’t know all the good things they are doing, so this is a way for them to get it out there.”

A small business owner and former sales representative, Whitfield said the LOCAL effort is one she wholeheartedly supports. “I really believe in this project,” she said. “As a sales rep, I saw a lot of small businesses close or struggle. The preservation of the small mom and pops is really important to this community.”

In addition to buying a spot in the book, Wheeler said people can participate by offering up artwork or photos for the book, join the local independent business alliance or simply help spread the word. “All we are asking is for people to look first to businesses in La Plata County before going to Farmington or Albuquerque or shopping online,” he said. Of course, he and other Local First proponents realize this is not always feasible. “We’re not out to confront anybody. If there’s something you can’t get here, and you need to go to Farmington, that’s fine. At least you thought about it. We just want people to be aware of how their decisions can affect the community they live in.” •

For more information on LOCAL or the “Local First” campaign, e-mail, call Juliet Whitfield at 382-2542 or call Jack Llewelyn, of the Chamber of Commerce, 247-0312.



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