The 225 local music fans who turned out to see a three-band spree on Thursday night at the Electric Fetus may have been there for the intimate feel of a mini-concert, but retail music manager Bob Fuchs hopes he's onto something even bigger.
The event was a kickoff to the Electric Fetus' latest effort to turn up the volume on the "shop-local" movement, with a campaign called MinnEconomy.
Every month, the Fetus' stores in Minneapolis, Duluth and St. Cloud will highlight Minnesota artists and musicians in its stores and online, and will sell featured items at a 10 percent discount.
Driving business to stores during the current economic downturn is secondary to the broader goal of "connecting the dots" among different types of businesses and artisans, Fuchs said. The Minneapolis store already carries 500 to 600 items by local artists and musicians, he said.
"We've been experiencing a downturn in the music business for eight years," he said. "This is more about us supporting the kind of creativity that makes our community unique and interesting. I just think the broader society is ready for this."
The buy-local movement is not new, but in recent years such efforts have been gaining steam. About 100 communities around the country now are making a concerted effort to encourage consumers to keep dollars flowing through home-grown businesses, said Stacy Mitchell of the Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which aims to help communities create solid jobs and be better environmental stewards.
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance and other like-minded groups often tout a 2004 report by the Texas strategic consulting firm Civic Economics, which found that for every dollar consumers spend with a local business, 68 cents continues to circulate in the state's economy through ancillary businesses such as printers, accountants and suppliers. When that same dollar gets spent at a national chain with no local headquarters, just 43 cents flow to the state economy, according to the report.
Without the big advertising budgets of national chains, small retailers must find other ways to get the word out about what makes them special. Buy-local campaigns, Mitchell said, are an effective way to do that.
In a survey of more than 1,142 independent booksellers, toy stores, bike dealers and other mom-and-pops this past holiday season, Mitchell's group found that stores taking part in shop-local efforts saw sales drop 3.2 percent, while those in cities without such an organized effort dropped 5.6 percent.
"With the country in recession, now more than ever, people want to make sure their dollars were generating maximum economic return for their community," Mitchell said.
Dan Marshall, a founding member of the Twin Cities Metro Independent Business Alliance (MetroIBA) and co-owner of a St. Paul toy store, said that what started as an "eat-local" effort driven by farmer's markets and local restaurants serving home-grown foods now involves more than 132 Twin Cities businesses and individuals. Among its members are bakeries, landscapers, linen suppliers, lawyers and accountants.
"The idea is that as a group we can network and advocate for small businesses in the area and create viable alternatives to big-box stores that are the same in every state," said Marshall, who sits on the MetroIBA board and with his wife owns Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care.
Mitchell said the Twin Cities is one of the largest metropolitan areas to take on a buy-local campaign, though its success falls "somewhere in the middle" of other initiatives nationwide.
"The challenge in being such a large metro area is trying to get enough businesses signed up so there's a critical level of visibility," she said. "It just takes longer to build up a campaign. But there's a consciousness among residents in Minnesota that local ownership and independent businesses really matter."
Fuchs said he hopes the Electric Fetus' MinnEconomy campaign will put one more log on the fire to bring awareness to the masses to "consider the cool, unique stores around town before you go to the strip malls."
This month's featured artists at the Minneapolis store are screen printer Adam Turman and the bands Rocket Club, Solid Gold and Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles. Fuchs envisions involving craft-beer brewers, chocolatiers and restaurant owners as well as musicians and jewelry- or soap-makers. Electric Fetus stores in Duluth and St. Cloud will choose their own artists and in-store events.
"I've had this personal philosophy for some time," Fuchs said. "People vote with their dollars every day to decide what stays and what goes. And now we're putting some resources into supporting the creativity and vitality of our area."
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335