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Download Main Street Now PDF_2011_07/08

We Love Our Independents

Some good news: This year, Consumer Reports magazine surveyed more than 16,000 people about their experiences buying major and small appliances from chains, independents, and online merchants. Just like the group found in its 2010 survey, independents beat every chain store in overall satisfaction. This follows CR’s April survey that showed independent pharmacies beat chain drug stores in overall satisfaction.

It seems like there is a never-ending list of studies and statistics that show why independent businesses are better for creating strong, local economies. Well, here is another one from East-West Gateway Council of Governments that came out in Jan. 2011. “An Assessment of the Effectiveness and Fiscal Impacts of the Use of Local Development Incentives in the St. Louis Region” finds that in the last 20 years, local governments in the St. Louis metro area used about $4.6 billion from tax revenue to subsidize big-box stores and malls. What did that get them? Well, the study finds that in the last 10 years, more than 600 small retailers went under and retail sales or per capita have not increased in years. Also, in pre-recession days (2000-2007) many municipalities were experiencing financial difficulties and were forced to cut services and jobs.

So, if you are like me, perhaps you are wondering what might have happened if that money (that’s $4.6 billion) was invested with local small businesses? A few thought leaders like BALLE’s Michael Shuman, Slow Money’s Woody Tasch, and author Amy Cortese have been thinking about this, too. Why is it easier for us to invest in huge international corporations than it is to invest in businesses in our own backyards. Cortese mentions in her book Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From It that if just 1 percent of the $26 trillion that American use for their investments went to the Main Street economy—that would come out to $260 billion towards entrepreneurs whose names we might actually know. “Locavesting” might be a cute name that blends “locavore” with “investing,” but I think its time has come.

Or, come back, rather—given that neighbors investing with their neighbors is how we used to do it in the olden days (fun fact: 100 years ago, the US had local stock exchanges). But the Great Depression changed all that, or at least the trading and investing laws did. In her research, Cortese found that the communities that invested locally were more resilient during the recession, so perhaps now is a good time for revisiting our trading and investing laws. Meanwhile, think about ways you can help your local businesses through micro-investment programs or online websites like Kickstarter.org or Kiva.org or community-invested business models.

If this thread interested you, then the recent Independent We Stand movement might as well. It’s another small businesses movement that lets folks register their independent business, take a pledge supporting shopping local, as well as find related articles and some marketing materials. There is another cool thing—a calculator on the homepage (www.independentwestand.org) that lets you choose your metro area so you can find out how much money would be recirculated into the local economy if residents spent just $10 a month with local businesses.

Around the Network

Ghosts on the Plaza

Almas de la Plaza, a video installation history/art project, lit up the upper floors of the recently rehabbed Community 1st Bank building in downtown Las Vegas, N.M.  Once it gets dark, ghostly historical figures appear in the windows to talk about their lives for several minutes before they vanish and a new visitor appears. From Santa Fe Trail travelers to soldiers to Billy the Kid, the multimedia summertime attraction delights visitors in showcasing what tales can be told from our historic buildings. The project was the idea of local artist Robert Drummond who worked with NMHU Media Arts class and the local community to research historical figures, common and famous, male and female, rich and poor, and film their stories. Drummond says he was motivated by his love for the community and a sense of social responsibility and to “strive to represent characters across different sectors of society.” Watch a video from his first project.

Streetscape Ribbon Cutting

The City of Bardstown, Ky., recently celebrated the completion of a $3 million downtown streetscape project with a “Streetscape Completion Ceremony”—which involved a ribbon cutting with local and economic development officials and 150 supporters who enthusiastically “reopened” the downtown.

The project was no small effort—it was funded by $1.9 million in ARRA economic stimulus funds, $639,000 in Transportation Enhancement Funds, and a $100,000 federal earmark, with the balance of the project paid for by the city. It redesigned Court Square and brought new water lines, sidewalks, accessibility ramps, streetlights, landscaping, benches, and trash cans to the streetscape. The new look also brought with it several new businesses. Definitely a reason to celebrate!

Web Watch

Reconnecting America is a national nonprofit that advises civic and community leaders on how to overcome community development challenges to create better communities for all. They spend a lot of time on research and public policy so they have a great resources section on their website  If you check out their Books & Report section, you can get a free download of “TOD 204: Planning for TOD at the Regional Scale.” This guidebook, which includes case studies from around the country, focuses on regional planning for TOD, including the general framework and benefits, and eight strategies for successful regional TOD planning.