The ‘shop local’ message is not a new one. For years, local retailers have worked to educate their communities about the power of supporting small business. Thriving cities in America all have one thing in common – a vibrant local retail scene. You don’t visit a new place and seek out the shops and dives you can find in every other city. You want the local flavor and flair. Downtowns, especially, are only as strong as the vibrancy of the stores and restaurants lining their streets. What’s more – when people shop with locally owned businesses, those tax dollars go into the city coffers to help fund education, infrastructure and other vital services.
Keeping It Local
Al’s Flowers in Montgomery, for several weeks, featured a buzz-worthy message on its marquee, “The Internet Did Not Pave Carter Hill Road. Shop Local.” Owner Al Cantrell said, “I’ve heard many people complain about Carter Hill Road needing repaving, and now they’re out there working on it. I just thought, this is an opportunity to let people know where the money comes from to pave that road.”
Little did Al know, his simple message would get people thinking. It encouraged them to realize the value of their purchase. The rise in popularity of locally sourced and locally made products has spawned a renewed awareness of the impact of buying local. The Alabama Retail Association created the Shop Alabama campaign to capitalize on that momentum and create a movement to educate, inspire and empower people to spend their money with locally owned and Alabama-based retailers.
We kicked off Shop Alabama this summer by taking the message to retailers across the state through a #ShopAlabama social media campaign, news interviews and a new website. The website explains how shopping local creates a powerful ripple effect, but also serves as a central location for retailers and consumers to gather resources and facts to support the movement. It was our hope that by highlighting the contributions of local retailers in their respective communities, Alabamians would want to join the movement and help us spread the message.
It’s an idea that’s easy to get behind. Everyone knows a local retailer – a friend, family member or neighbor, the sponsor of your child’s Little League team, or the person who always donates an item to your school fundraiser and church auction. Local retailers are the backbone of a community; they reinvest their time and money back into other local businesses and causes.
“When you go online and order something, they’re not going to be the ones who give you a donation for your silent auction or for the fall festival. We may give three or four of those because different customers ask us. That’s something that we enjoy, being able to give back,” said Margaret Hamm, who owns Monograms Plus of Cullman, a specialty gift and embroidery shop.
Fleet Feet Sports in Montgomery offers another example of giving back. For the past three years, the store has hosted “Treadmills for Charity,” organizing 24 hours of nonstop running to raise money for Hope Inspired Ministries, a nonprofit that trains unemployed men and women to obtain and maintain a job.
“Giving back is ingrained in our mindset every day,” said Avery Ainsworth, who owns the running and apparel shop. “It’s not just about selling a pair of shoes, or getting people to be more active, it’s also about how we can use our time and our business to make this community a better place.”
It’s a common thread that connects retail owners – a genuine desire to help and support the causes that matter to them personally and their customers. As we visited with local retailers in cities across Alabama, we found shop and restaurant owners who are so passionate about their communities that they often lead the charge, in their spare time, to create new initiatives and activities that energize their entire city.
“It’s our city. We are never going to sit here and hope people come here to shop. We see it as our mission to do our part to bring people into our downtown,” said Barbara Levitt, general merchandise manager of M & F Casuals, a locally owned boutique in downtown Fairhope.
Levitt also serves as an executive board member for the Downtown Fairhope Business Association. In addition to organizing community events, the association goes as far as to put together the city’s official visitor’s guide, so tourists get the most out of their stay in town.
“It’s what’s special about small stores, we are able to help the causes that are important to our customers,” said Carol Eberlein, who oversees M&F Casuals’ operations. “We have always been told that small organizations have a hard time getting assistance from big stores. But with local stores like us, because we are so small, the owners are right here on the spot. We can make quick decisions and immediately get involved.”
“It is wonderful that we can offer enough to keep the community vibrant and keep the customers shopping in town,” added Carol.
Join the Movement
The Shop Alabama campaign has just begun. It’s our hope that it becomes a year-round call-to-action and point of pride. We want people in Alabama to understand the long term value in supporting their local retailers. We all spend money on clothes, food and leisure. This campaign encourages Alabamians to keep those dollars in state. Join our movement and help us spread the message. We all benefit when you Shop Alabama.
Story and photos by:
Melissa Johnson Warnke,
Communications Manager for Alabama Retail Association