Durham Goes Bullish on Indies

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Durham, North Carolina, is getting its own local first organization thanks to the efforts of The Regulator Bookshop’s Tom Campbell. Independent Durham already has more than 20 retailer members and will launch its first campaign the week after Thanksgiving. Fliers, bumper stickers, a website, and posters will promote the Bull City’s indie retailers with the slogan “Sustain a Bull. Shop Independent Durham” and a retro bull logo.

“We’re going to try to make a big splash in the middle of November,” said Campbell. “And then encourage a lot of people to shop local the week after Thanksgiving.”

The organization currently includes only retailers, but the plan is to invite service businesses and restaurants to join once Independent Durham is launched. “We wanted to start with something small, make that a success, and use that to build further,” Campbell said.

Although he had long-considered local first groups a “good idea that helps everybody,” Campbell said that he had been held back by the thought of needing “a full-blown organization to get started.” After talking with the likes of BookPeople’s Steve Bercu, president and founder of the Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA), and looking at organizations such as North Carolina’s Asheville Grown, a campaign to boost sales during the 2009 holiday season that grew into a permanent coalition of local businesses, Campbell decided to launch Independent Durham.

“I thought the first things we needed were a slogan and a logo. My wife came up with 'Sustain a Bull,' which everyone likes. Durham is the Bull City, and everybody in Durham knows the Bull means Durham,” Campbell said.

The logo – a bull on a bright yellow background – was designed by Campbell’s neighbor Nancy Frame, a graphic designer who has done work for Whole Foods and Duke University. “Her rates are such that we could never afford them,” Campbell said. “ But when I explained what the logo was for, she was really into it. She did it for way, way less than her usual rates and came up with the wonderful bull logo.” 

Independent Durham got its official start when Campbell asked two other local businesses – a wine merchant and a gourmet store – to sign on to a letter asking other local retailers to join. “I thought about just sending the letter from the bookstore,” he explained, “but I wanted to show that there was wider support.”

The letter went to about 25 retailers. “Just about everybody signed on,” Campbell said. “Other businesses were wildly enthusiastic about the idea.”

To launch Independent Durham, each retailer will host a coordinated event during the week after Thanksgiving with other participating retailers to encourage Durham residents to shop local. Businesses were asked to donate $50 for the campaign.

To publicize the campaign, Independent Durham will have a website and Facebook page, and will provide window decals, bumper stickers, and posters. Campbell will also make available a handout that explains how spending locally benefits the local economy.