Shopping small is big

We’re less than one week away from the flood gates opening on the busiest shopping season of the year. If the past few months of retail sales continue in the same direction, retail experts might be right in thinking — “The American Consumer is Back”.   Retail sales climbed again in October marking four consecutive months of gains, noted the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA).

“Although still cautious and in search of value, the American consumer has returned,” said RILA President Sandy Kennedy.

Lately I’ve noticed a greater emphasis on shopping local than ever before. Several new initiatives have bubbled up to encourage consumers to spend money in the small retail shops in their communities.

Two new projects launched this year — ShopMIDowntown Challenge & Small Business Saturday have joined the efforts of the 3/50 Project started in March of 2009. Personally, I applaud each of these projects.

ShopMiDowntown, sponsored by the Michigan Main Street Center, challenges Michigan’s residents to spend 75% of their holiday shopping dollars in downtowns. They’re asking people to post pictures and video of their favorite downtown stores to a Facebook page. People who post pictures or video will be entered into a random drawing to win an overnight stay at one of several popular lodgings in the state.

The campaign was  organized to raise awareness that Michigan residents’ purchases, particularly during the holiday season, can positively impact their local economy. Bottom line — shopping local creates jobs. A good enough reason, wouldn’t you say?

The Saturday following Thanksgiving is now dubbed — Small Business Saturday. American Express has launched a campaign designating Small Business Saturday as the third most popular shopping day of the holiday season, wedged between Black Friday & Cyber Monday. The initiative was created to “rally support of the small businesses we love.” November 27, 2010 is the first-ever Small Business SaturdaySM. Mark your calendars in the years to come. This is the day hit the streets and shop the mom & pop shops in your town.

This national movement is poised to take off. Already American Express has generated support from more than a dozen advocacy, public and private organizations in declaring the Saturday after Thanksgiving as Small Business Saturday. And, the number of “likes” on their Facebook page is a sure sign of success. In less than a week, they generated more than 150,000 likes … currently 657,528 people like their page. As an added bonus, American Express has promised to donate $1 for every like to Girls Inc. to teach young women to be the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

The 3/50 Project is the oldest of these shop local programs, but I love the story of how this was started the best. Cinda Baxter founded 3/50 in March 2009 by accident, she says. Seeing a series of TV shows in a one-week period touting the importance of consumer spending on the local economy, Baxter was lead to create 3/50.

Basically, the campaign asks people to “pick 3, spend $50 – save your local economy.” The message Baxter drives home in asking folks to pick their three favorite local retailers and commit to spending $50 a month at these shops is the real difference even one person can have in impacting the local economy.

“If half the employed population spent $50 each month in locally owned independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue.”

Another compelling fact Baxter points out through campaign …

“For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. If you spend that at national chains only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.”

I can think of far more than three local retailers I’d add to my list of favorites, and that’s just in downtown Mt. Pleasant. In making my shopping list for the holidays, I promise to do whatever gift buying I can locally. How about you?

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