Independents vs. big-box stores: Grand Junction chamber’s ‘Shop Local’ campaign includes national chains | PostIndependent.com
Sharon Sullivan
ssullivan@gjfreepress.com

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Independents vs. big-box stores: Grand Junction chamber’s ‘Shop Local’ campaign includes national chains

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce's Shop Local campaign has some people wondering why they've included national corporations in their definition of "local."

Three years ago, the chamber launched its Blue Bandwagon program encouraging residents to spend dollars locally — with many participating businesses offering discounts to shoppers. Blue, rubber wristbands with the "Shop Local" slogan are distributed by the chamber as a reminder to support area businesses.

"Even Walmarts, K-Marts and supermarkets employ people here in the Grand Valley. They pay taxes. We don't care whether it's Sprouts, TJ Maxx or Walmart. They're putting up money to build those stores. It's an investment in the (local) economy," the chamber's Membership and Marketing Director Leif Johnson said.

"Our message now is more focused, simple, to the point: Shop Local," he said.

People who own and shop at independently-held, locally-owned businesses often see it differently.

Last week at GJ's Culinary Corner, 455 Main St., Steve Jennings was buying locally roasted coffee at the independent kitchen supply store.

"Shopping local is very important — it's why I'm standing here. I'm a big supporter of downtown, so I shop on Main Street whenever I can," Jennings said. "It's important to shop local to keep sales tax local."

Jennings also asserted that independent businesses are more apt to donate to local causes.

"While everybody donates to charity, local owners donate more," he said.

Independent businesses also tend to support other locals, Patty Guerrero (a Culinary Corner store clerk) said, as she pointed to dried seasonings made in Palisade and pottery by a Grand Valley artist.

Another downtown shop owner, Bruce Benge of Benges Shoes, said he's not opposed to including chain stores in the shop local mix.

"They provide jobs, they're feeding families and those people are shopping," he said.

Yet, much of their profits leave the local community and "go away to headquarters," he added.

Shoe shopper Mary Kalmes declared, "I don't shop Walmart at all," when asked where she spends her money.

"Walmart made $16 billion last year and they pay their help $8.25 an hour," Kalmes said. "A lot of these people are on food stamps; they hire so many part-time people and I don't think that's fair."

'LOCAL' HAS DIFFERENT MEANINGS

In many communities, the "buy local" movement refers to the support of independent, locally-owned shops.

Whereas the criteria for many chambers of commerce is geographical — meaning a corporation with a big-box store in town qualifies as "shopping local."

Money spent at any brick-and-mortar business generates sales taxes that go to support police and fire services, as well as infrastructure and jobs. A look at local recirculation of revenue, however, shows independent businesses retain significantly more money in the local economy than do national chains, according to a Civic Economics survey.

Local First Arizona is a statewide nonprofit organization that promotes the support of locally owned, independently held businesses throughout Arizona.

"Local has a lot of different meanings depending on who you're talking to," said Deanna Chevas, Tucson manager for Local First Arizona. "In our definition, owners live and retain profits in Arizona."

"A lot of economic development is based on getting big companies to relocate to an area. Usually those arrangements are a net loss," because of other jobs that are lost, she said. "Local businesses have been disadvantaged by policies that favor big corporations."

According to a Bloomberg Businessweek 2010 article, the "buy local" movement has even caused some chains to "rebrand" themselves as to appear "local" as a Starbucks coffee shop did in a Seattle neighborhood. While Starbucks did originate in Seattle, it is now a huge national chain that competes with local coffee shops everywhere.

Additionally, Bloomberg cites research from Civic Economics and the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance that says "for every $100 spent at a locally owned store, $45 remains in the local economy, compared with about $13 per $100 at a big box."

ANYTHING BUT ONLINE SHOPPING

When the Grand Junction chamber started its Shop Local campaign, included was any business in the valley that collected sales tax and paid payroll, said Nathan Wallace, who heads the chamber's Shop Local committee.

That bothers Allison, co-owner of the downtown yarn shop Tangle. When she started the business a few years ago and was sole owner, she did not pay herself as an employee and did not have a payroll.

"My opinion of the chamber is they are not pro-small, locally-owned business in this community," she said. "The Shop Local program is a good example of that."

Wallace said he's aware that some people believe a "shop local" campaign should include only independent businesses where owners reside and retain a larger share of the profits within the community.

"We haven't been that exclusive," Wallace said. The chain restaurants and stores are "still providing jobs, spending money and building buildings."

The chamber would simply like to see people eschew online shopping, and instead make purchases at brick-and-mortar stores where sales taxes fund municipal projects or services. Currently, online markets have what many claim is an unfair trade advantage by not being required to charge sales tax.

"Imagine the impact we could have on the local economy" if, instead of purchasing items online, people bought from a store in the Grand Valley where sales taxes would benefit the community, the chamber's Johnson said.

Despite including big-box chains in its "shop local" mix, Megan Reinertsen, owner of Colorado Baby, 560 Main St., said the chamber is bringing awareness to the concept of buying from local retailers.

"Walmart is my competitor, but my biggest competition is the Internet world," Reinertsen said. "If you're shopping online, none of that money stays local. There's no local benefit at all for us."

"I'm all about shopping at small, locally owned businesses because I am one," Reinertsen added. "We try and keep it local, too. When people shop here, I take that money and I spend it here in town."