Here are some interesting ideas from around the country on how to help local businesses survive and thrive in this tough economic climate.
Customer investing has allowed several businesses to stay afloat and get necessary loans when local banks have turned them down. It also gives the customers a new sense of community. Kizuri in Spokane, WA raised $73,000 for startup costs with low-interest loans from community members. $2 bills are rarely used, so Danny Cottrell in Brewton, AL gave his employees a bonus in $2 bills and told them to spend the money at local businesses. The bills were easy to recognize as they spread around town, as a reminder to shop locally. This "people's stimulus" has caught on elsewhere, and has spawned a website: www.peoplesstimulus.org.
The Aiken Standard in Aiken, SC decided to promote the buying power of the $20 bill by giving businesses an ad for $20. It also encouraged readers to spend $20 at local businesses on April 20. This simple message has spread to several other newspapers, and shopkeepers anticipate the new customers arriving because of the ads. "Are you here to spend your $20?" was a common question. A local small business advocacy group in Columbia, MO decided to sponsor a week-long buy local campaign called the Independents Week Challenge. Since the week ran into the Fourth of July weekend, many stores weren't open, but it got many people thinking hard about what's available and when from locally-owned and operated businesses. The week will happen again next year.
Cinda Baxter created the 3/50 project (not to be confused with 350.org) in response to the poor economic climate. It encourages consumers to pick three small businesses they care about, and spend $50 a month at them. It's caught on in many places, including towns like Plymouth, MI, where the whole town has gotten involved. Signs, flyers, bookmarks, stickers and more are available at the project's website. It's a simple message that can do a lot for local businesses. The New England Local Business Forum is encouraging consumers to shift 10% of their spending to local businesses. The campaign, called the 10 Percent Shift, is backed by statistics that say if 600,000 area residents did this, that area would gain 1,600 jobs and $140 million in new economic activity within one year. Jon O'Toole of Somerville, MA distributes 10% shift cards to customers in his furniture store Grand, and says it has definitely built awareness and allowed him to start conversations.
Tony Cox of Bowdoinham, ME started a Buy Bowdoinham campaign by compiling a list of all of Bowdoinham's community businesses, then spreading the information with posters, a Web site and an email list. Local businesses have caught on, and people are starting to realize the wealth of stores in town that they didn't know existed. Cox saw the positive effects of the Portland Buy Local campaign at the framing shop he had in that city, 30 miles south of Bowdoinham, and wanted to bring it home. So what will the future of local business in Poughkeepsie look like? It's up to you. Get involved in the Middle Main Revitalization project and be a part of the local business revolution that's spreading across the country. Poughkeepsie has a lot to offer, but it needs local leaders to spread the word and to do the day-to-day work of building a strong local economy. If you're interested, call 845-454-5176 and ask for Andrew or Elizabeth. Our next meeting is Wednesday, October 14 at 5:30 pm.

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