Sunday, February 8, 2009


We hear this phrase quite often these days, but does anyone really stop and think about its significance? Does the average shopper in Altadena really understand how supporting your local independent businesses helps support the entire community? I suspect they don’t, as I sit here looking at my store which is devoid of any customers. One of my new year’s resolutions was to promise myself that I’d start writing blog posts with more relevant content on how our store and the Webster’s shopping complex as a whole is interconnected with our community’s economic future. This is the first step in this undertaking and I sincerely hope that these posts will help foster some new ideas. I’ve started this post several times and erased everything because it sounded so stiff. Just be yourself, Lori, I thought, and speak from your heart, so here goes.

Before Scott and I took over Webster’s Fine Stationers, I was an avid shopper. I love to shop, to window browse, to look to see what’s new. I’m a decorator, so I love bringing something nice home for the house, for Scott or for me but I never really stopped and thought about where I shopped. Pier One’s got some table linens at ½ off? I’m there with bells on and wallet out! Pottery Barn’s got a glass cloche (bell jar) for $49.99? Ka-ching, it’s mine, as are Z Gallerie’s huge apothecary jars. I never stopped to think that I maybe could’ve gotten any of these items from a local independent retailer. Why is that? We are so conditioned to the advertisements and catalogs sent from these huge chains, these corporate stores, these big-boxes, that we forget about the little guys. We are so intent on saving a few bucks that we will spend almost that entire savings in gas driving to the chain retailer of choice, never realizing the impact this has on our local enconomy. It took the ownership of an independent retail store and educating myself about these things for me to realize what's happening....I'd like to share this with you so you'll be aware, too.

So what happens when you patronize only these types of chain stores? Ok, let’s explain it is way….only about 1/3 of your dollar stays in your community when you buy from one of them. “We often assume that the dramatic growth of chains is solely the result of consumer choices, when in fact government has a hand in this trend. Over the last decade, cities and towns have spent billions of dollars subsidizing the development of big-box stores and shopping centers. Tax policies in many states are riddled with loopholes that allow large retailers to duck their tax obligations, while small businesses are left to shoulder their full share,” says Stacy Mitchell, researcher and author, recently quoted in the trade publication “On Point”.

She goes on to talk about “buy local” campaigns throughout the country and comments, “What makes these campaigns effective? Part of the answer is that they are not simply empty marketing slogans. They draw on a growing body of research. Some of the most compelling has to do with the added economic benefit of locally-owned businesses. Several studies have found that a dollar spent at an independent business generates more economic activity and supports more jobs in the community than a dollar spent at a chain. The primary reason is that local businesses buy more goods and services, like banking and accounting, from other local businesses.” She goes on to state, “A study in Grand Rapids, Mich., by the firm Civic Economics found that, if residents redirected just 10 percent of their total spending from chains to locally-owned businesses, the result would be $140 million in new economic activity for the region, including 1,600 new jobs and $53 million in additional payroll.”

That’s pretty deep, isn’t it? Ms. Mitchell’s article says, “Studies have also found that cities that have lots of locally-owned businesses score better on a variety of measures of community well-being. They have lower poverty rates, greater civic participation, and more charitable giving. In addition, local businesses generally have a much smaller environmental impact and place less demand on public infrastructure and services than big-box stores.” Whoa…this is huge! Think about this for a minute and how it relates to Altadena. Wouldn’t it be great to have lower poverty rates, greater civic participation and more charitable giving here? Judging from the low response to our several attempts to raise funds for two local Altadena charities, I’d say so.

The thing is, we can all do something about this. We can shop local and keep our money local, where it counts the most. Most big-box stores have their headquarters in different states, or even out of the country. Staples is headquartered out of state, as is Office Max and WalMart. Target has good community programs going, I’ll give them that, but again, they’re headquartered out of state. Trader Joe’s? Headquartered in Germany. So you see, it’s really hard to find a retailer who is actually a resident of your community……or is it? Let’s see, according to Ms. Mitchell’s article, “Both anecdotal reports from business owners and empirical evidence indicate that (buy local) initiatives are having a significant impact on people’s choices.”

“In Bellingham, Wash., a market research firm found that nearly 60 percent of residents are patronizing locally-owned businesses more often thanks to a campaign that encourages people to “Think Local First”. The campaign was launched in 2003 by Sustainable Connections, a coalition of more than 500 locally-owned businesses. Normally, if 1 in 5 households claim familiarity with your program, and change their behavior because of it you would consider it a success”, said Dr. Pamela Jull of Applied Research Northwest. “To have nearly 3 in 5 households attributing a behavior change in this program shows an amazing impact”.

Let’s see how “buy local” programs have done in areas around the country. Says Ms. Mitchell, “Last year, thanks in large part to the work of Arizona Local First, an alliance of more than 900 independent businesses, the state passed a law outlawing subsidies for big-box stores and shopping centers in the Phoenix metro.”

“In New Mexico, the Santa Fe Independent Business and Community Alliance, a six-year-old coalition of more than 600 local businesses, helped advance a bill to close a tax loophole that gives chains, but not local businesses, a major break. Opposed by big business, the bill had stalled in committee for years. But that changed, said the bills’s sponsor, Rep. Peter Wirth, when independent business owners spoke up”.

“Local business alliances are also influencing how city officials think about economic development. The Austin (Texas) Independent Business Alliance, which has nearly 400 members, has run a highly visible campaign urging residents to “Celebrate their Independents” and “Break the Chain Habit”. The message has resonated with city officials, who have stepped up small business training programs, designated several “Independent Business Investment Zones” around the city, and decreed that a major downtown redevelopment project lease at least 30 percent of its retail space to locally-owned businesses. The developer ultimately rented 70 percent of the storefronts to locals”. Hello….think about what such an alliance would’ve meant to the hotly debated West Altadena shopping district! We are asleep at the wheel, people.

“With the national economy in trouble, local business alliances have become more crucial now than ever, not only in helping independent businesses survive, but in offering a path out of this mess and toward a more durable economic model in which business is once again firmly rooted in the community”.

I know this is getting long, but it’s something that needs to be said. If the current atmosphere prevails in Altadena, Webster’s, who has been serving our community for upwards of 84 years and on its way to becoming an historical landmark, will be history. The jobs that help support many local people would be gone, the property redeveloped into condos or the like, and the tax revenue we pay the County of Los Angeles would evaporate. All the support we and other businesses around the area give to local charities would be no more and Altadena will wither. Dire predictions, yes, but there’s much we can do about it. Webster’s Fine Stationers has taken that first step, by joining Buy Local Pasadena, and by writing this blog post. Also check out their recent blogpost here: - there’s some relevant information to read. Join us in our fight to improve the quality of life in our community….shop local, buy local and help keep Altadena the amazingly beautiful and prosperous town it's always been!