When Xtine Hanson, an artist and professor of Visual Communication at California State University, Fullerton, was visiting New York and looking for a cafe in SoHo, she had several to choose from -- all of them Starbucks. Dissatisfied with her lack of choice, Hanson, who prefers to frequent independent businesses, returned to California with the germ of an idea. The result is Delocator.net, a tool that, via the user's zip code, locates nearby independent bookstores, cafes, and movie theaters. The Delocator database is created by public participants, and anyone who knows about a store that is not listed can easily add it to Delocator.net.
"Usually I try to find an independent cafe -- I have a favorite location here near my home in Long Beach, California," Hanson told BTW. "But I especially enjoy getting a taste of the 'local flavor' when I'm away from home." When she couldn't find that local flavor in SoHo, she told a friend that "there really should just be a tool for this -- plug in your zip code and get results."
With the help of some web programmers, Hanson created the necessary code and Delocater.net launched in 2005. Run and edited solely by Hanson, the site originally offered information on independent cafes, but last year expanded to include bookstores and theaters.
Delocator, a semantic play on the locating tool on corporate retailers' websites, is a user-generated database of about 5,000 businesses. It's an uncluttered website that features a window to enter a zip code and a drop down box to select the type of business: cafe, bookstore, or movie theater. A search can be expanded further by selecting up to a 20-mile radius of the zip code. It's easy to add bookstores or other independent businesses to the database by visiting the Add a Cafe page. Hanson also provides a Toolkit with the appropriate codes so that others can build their own Delocator sites.
"I always thought of the Delocator as a larger concept than just 'avoiding Starbucks' (although, of course, this was my first incentive)," said Hanson, who had worked at a Starbucks for a brief time. "When I launched the site I had always intended to include other independent/local stores following the same structure of the site -- an independent, user-generated list versus the corporate list culled from the web."
The Delocator serves as something of a call-to-arms for supporting independent business. On its "Why Delocate" page, the site states: "Corporate industries invading American neighborhoods, from coffee chains to bookstore chains, music chains, and movie theatre chains, pose a threat to the authenticity of our unique neighborhoods." In the interest of free choice, it lists Starbucks locations too, along with other corporate owned businesses, but labels them as such.
Visitors to the site will also find an explanation of why it's in their best interest to shop local. Delocator.net points to the Civic Economics' study "Economic Impact Analysis: A Case Study, Local Merchants vs. Chain Retailers," which demonstrated that local merchants contribute more than three times as much economic value back to the community than do chain retailers.