Last month Buy Local Berkeley signed up its 400th member. Comic Relief, a comic bookstore on Shattuck, took the honor and the news was broadcast on Buy Local Berkeley’s twitter stream (@buylocalberk).
If you live in Berkeley, you will have seen the Buy Local Berkeley logo around — in shop windows and on websites. The organization has been going for two years and is gearing up for a new phase of activity with a beefed-up executive board and some new ideas on the drawing board about how to implement its mission.
Amy Thomas, founder of Pegasus Books who sits on the BLB board, defines that mission as supporting independent local businesses and encouraging consumers to patronize those same businesses. She cites research conducted by Stacy Mitchell, author of Big-Box Swindle, and a senior researcher with the New Rules Project, which shows that 62 cents of every dollar spent at a local business stays in the communitiy versus 42 cents when you shop at a chain store.
“It’s not just a feel-good factor,” says Thomas. “You are putting your money where your home is and contributing to a multiplier effect — it’s not just the local store owner who is benefiting from your money, its her staff, lawyer, advertising agency and all the non-profits she donates to.”
There is no membership fee for businesses who want to join Buy Local Berkeley, but they need to qualify — there are five criteria including being based in the nine-county Bay Area and being in control of one’s marketing and purchasing decisions. BLB receives funding from the city of Berkeley’s Economic Development department
Thomas says as a bookseller she knows first-hand what it’s like to battle the chains — such as Barnes & Noble like Amazon — and that local businesses are the engine that drives the country. “During the recession it was the small businesses that protected Berkeley and kept it going.”
BLB is considering the idea of a consumer loyalty card which could be used across its member businesses and may develop an interactive search engine of local businesses which could be a useful tool for economic development executives looking to assess coverage and help plug gaps.
“Nationally there’s a lot of talk against the chain store model and for local sourcing and sustainability,” Thomas says. “If this is going to be a revolution, it has our name on it.”