Sunday, April 12, 2009

Support Local Business With the 3/50 Project

City Page's Hot Dish blog clued me into a new website designed to raise awareness of the need to support local businesses, as well as some practical tips on how to do it. The 3/50 Project, as it’s named, encourages residents to select three of their favorite local independent stores, then commit to spending at least $50 per month (total) at those stores. It’s a simple, easy suggestion, and provides an instant framework to help people wean themselves off of chain stores. Given all the recent furor over the possibility of Trader Joe’s coming to the Uptown/Lyndale area, this seems like a particularly relevant topic.

The 3/50 Project has national ambitions, but has its roots right here in the greater Uptown area. Founder Cinda Baxter is the owner of the former Details Ink, which until its recent closing (it shut its doors in 2008) was located Calhoun Village.

The concept of shopping locally should be an obvious one, yet for many of us it’s not. How many people from Uptown do you know who do their shopping elsewhere? Sure, not everything is readily available here, and sometimes you don’t have much of a choice, but I know plenty of people who think nothing of hopping in their car and driving out to Mall of America to pick up a present or buy a pair of shoes. If we want locally-owned independent retailers and businesses to stay in our neighborhoods, then we need to be willing to support them with our dollars. The $50 per month that Baxter suggests does not have to be above and beyond your current budget; most of us can meet that minimum amount by simply doing some shifting around; if the battle of the grocery stores has you riled up, shop a little less at Trader Joe’s in St. Louis Park and a little more at the Wedge.

Uptown has a large number of residents who do spend their money locally. Still, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Taking Baxter’s advice and identifying your personal top three independent stores that you would hate to see go out of business is a great approach, but ideally it is only the first step towards a larger shift in shopping and spending habits. You might not spend every dollar right here in the neighborhood or in the city, but being aware of the impact that dollar can have, and the benefits of shopping locally, is a great start.

My only question about the 3/50 project is why they have chosen to use CafĂ© Press (an online store) to sell their 3/50 Project coffee mugs and t-shirts; I’m assuming it’s for the sake of ease and affordability, but given the local “bricks and mortar” independent store philosophy of 3/50, it might have been better to go without rather than offer up this non-local, online option.

If you own a local business and want to be listed as a supporter, or want to obtain free graphics to use in your business or on your website, you can register (for free) as a supporter at 3/50 website.

And finally, the hard (but fun) - picking your top three. Realistically we should all pick more than three local (3/50 asks that they not be franchises, and that they have fewer than six local locations) places to support - shopping locally should become a way of life - but picking three is a good place to start. Here's my Uptown list:
  1. Magers and Quinn
  2. Uptown Bar and Cafe
  3. Shoe Zoo
Although not officially endorsed by the 3/50 Project, I also think it's important to support your local community stores, even if sometimes that means supporting a larger chain. Davanni's and Dunn Brothers, for example, are both above the six locations rule, yet I think they deserve our support, too. (although the bigger a chain gets the less I like it, even if it is locally-based; Caribou, for example, is pretty low on my list now, and Dunn Brothers is falling fast with the opening of each new franchise location.) My personal rule of thumb is to first try the independent, then the local chain, and then finally the national chain located in neighborhood. At the very bottom of the list would be leaving the neighborhood to go out to a mall or the suburbs to support a big box store.

What three local, independent stores will you put on your 3/50 list?