Take your money to town

  • Article by: KARA MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 14, 2011 - 10:20 AM

Why I'll do more holiday shopping at small businesses this year.

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Cinda Baxter, who started the 3/50 project to promote the buy-local movement talked with Doug Huemoeller, owner of Kitchen window in his store in Calhoun Square.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Dml - Star Tribune Star Tribune

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I love a good deal. I love tallying up how much I save using coupons. I love watching my nest egg grow.

But I also love seeing new small businesses thrive in my city. And I admit I struggle with how my price-obsessed self and my supporter-of-small-business self can coexist.

More often than not, I find price and convenience propels me to the closest big-box store. Target is based in Minnesota, I justify.

Increasingly, I flip open my laptop, or even my mobile phone, to make purchases. Buying local takes more time, and I can almost always find as good a deal online.

I live near the light-rail construction and, while driving down University Avenue the other day, looking at empty storefront after empty storefront, I simultaneously felt excited about potential new businesses opening after the train is completed, fearful of what the neighborhood would become if mom-and-pop shops don't return, and ashamed that I don't make a point of supporting my neighborhood entrepreneurs more. What would the world be like without them?

By supporting a small business, you are supporting a neighborhood entrepreneur who is more likely to spend profits in the local community and support community causes, said Dave Brennan, co-director of the Institute for Retailing Experience at the University of St. Thomas. Small businesses are important employers, with small firms employing nearly as many workers as large firms, according to the Small Business Administration. And real estate values tend to be higher in areas with small businesses within walking distance.

With economic uncertainty plaguing us for four years now, I've thought a lot about the global nature of our woes. It can be easy for an individual to think that there's nothing they can do but hunker down. But I've come to realize that I do have power -- the power to spend my money wisely, where and how I think it will provide the most benefit to my family and my community.

So with the holiday season nearing, I am pledging to be a more thoughtful shopper. It may mean my money doesn't stretch as far. But I'm beginning to realize that keeping my money close to home is as important -- no, more important -- than getting the cheapest price.

Here's my plan:

I will support the 3/50 project. In 2009 Cinda Baxter, a Twin Cities retail consultant for independent businesses, grew concerned that if consumers answered the call from personal finance experts to stop spending, the economic slowdown would only get worse. Instead of putting their wallets away, what if consumers pledged to spend $50 per month at three local small businesses? She cites a U.S. Labor Department statistic that if half the employed population spent $50 a month in a locally owned business, it would generate $42.6 billion in revenue. The project even has a "Look Local" iPhone app, which helps consumers find independent, brick-and-mortar businesses around the country.

I will shop on Small Business Saturday. This is the second year for Small Business Saturday, planned for Nov. 26 -- the day after Black Friday. The event, created by American Express, is designed to help small businesses attract customers to their stores, the No. 1 challenge according to Mary Ann Fitzmaurice of American Express.

Last year, merchants that accept American Express saw a 28 percent rise in sales volume compared with the same Saturday the previous year, the credit card company said. Like last year, American Express is giving away 200,000 $25 statement credits for cardholders that shop at an American Express accepting small business on Nov. 26. Learn more about the campaign and sign up for the statement credit: Facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday.

I will head downtown to shop. The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota has Holidays on Main, a statewide campaign urging Minnesota residents to do three-quarters of their holiday shopping in downtown and neighborhood shopping districts around the state.

"People are really paying more attention to what effect their spending dollars have on their local economy," said the program's coordinator Emily Northey. I'm doubtful that I'll do 75 percent of my shopping this way, but I'll try.

Kara McGuire • 612-673-7293 or kmcguire@startribune.com. Twitter: @Kara_McGuire

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