‘Buy Local’ movement gains speed with merchants

Buying goods and services from locally-owned businesses can preserve a community’s unique character, create more jobs locally, make more efficient use of public services and community infrastructure, expand choice beyond chains, reduce environmental impact and keep money where we live.

Two local groups are working to promote these values.

The Downtown Retail Strategy Team, an active group of Vancouver’s Downtown Association, is working to reinvigorate the depressed downtown core now, when we need it most. The team has engaged stakeholders to determine what is most necessary, and at the top of the list is the message that supporting local business is the best thing for Vancouver.

At the same time, the Lower Columbia Alliance for Living Sustainably has set in motion an effort to combine environmentally and socially responsible practices with community connections to create a vibrant, interdependent business climate in Southwest Washington.

The group is working in five areas – sustainable business development, green building, energy efficiency, food and farming – and topping the agenda – think local first.

The two groups are coordinating this message under the LOCALS banner, aiming to kick off their campaigns around Earth Day in April.

The LOCALS message lends itself well to use by shopping districts around the county. The uniting factor is that businesses involved are privately held, not publicly traded; owned by people in Southwest Washington; have a physical presence here; have full autonomy to make business decisions; and pledge to learn about and incorporate sustainable business practices.

Mega-chains need not apply.

The LOCALS steering committee recently returned from a field trip to Bellingham, where leaders of Sustainable Connections shared how more than 600 business and community leaders are working to transform and model an economy based on sustainable business practices, and where buying local first is commonplace.

We can learn from McMinnville, Ore., and its loosely-knit organization that saw a third of the cars in town sport “buy local” window clings last fall.

Or from Local First Arizona, a highly-organized effort that not only educates consumers, but educates legislators about the concerns of locally-owned businesses.

Or Local First Vermont, where members kept a Wal-Mart out of its capital city, Montpelier.

In this economy, the time is now to join together and support the people who have invested their money, energy and vision in this place we call home.

The entire community will benefit.

Mary Sisson co-owns Kazoodles, a Vancouver-based independent toy store, and serves on the board and edits the national magazine of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association. She can be contacted at 360-699-9200.