Although most pundits are predicting a lackluster holiday shopping season, there's at least one local business group that's hoping to turn the current economic situation to its advantage. The Sustainable Business Network of the Greater Lehigh Valley (SBN) in southeast Pennsylvania plans to launch a Main Street, Not Wall Street campaign to highlight to consumers the advantages of spending their dollars at local independent businesses.
"There is a limited number of dollars out there, and we're trying to let consumers know how they can make the most impact with their money," said Stephanie Anderson of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania's Moravian Book Shop, which is a member of SBN Greater Lehigh Valley. "It's deceptively simple, what you can do [for your community] with a slight change of habits."
Lehigh Valley's network formed about a year ago, and Moravian Book Shop became a member in early 2008. "Southeast Pennsylvania is sort of an unusual situation," Anderson explained. "We're four small-sized cities with different flavors and businesses, and the alliance includes businesses from all these areas."
Picking up instructions for the Bethlehem scavenger hunt.
Since the alliance's inception, it's been extremely busy. In February, in anticipation of the arrival of economic stimulus checks, SBN held a press conference where it called on area consumers to spend the money locally. The press conference received local media attention and helped spotlight the group's message.
In June, the group launched a yearlong Think Independent campaign "to engage Lehigh Valley residents in a conversation about where and with whom they shop -- to raise as a priority the idea of supporting locally owned, independent businesses in their communities." Among its activities in August was the coordination of a scavenger hunt in downtown Bethlehem that served to remind residents of the great businesses in the area.
The front window of Moravian Book Shop features the alliance's "Think Independent" poster with the "Declaration of IndieBound."
Anderson said that Moravian Book Shop has incorporated a lot of IndieBound materials into the local Think Independent campaign and its extension, Main Street, Not Wall Street. "I'm bringing IndieBound to SBN, especially the social networking piece of it," said Anderson.
Last year, Bethlehem's mayor wrote an op-ed piece for the local paper encouraging people to shop locally, and this year the group is hoping to convince all the mayors to write similar op-eds.
Spotlighting the importance of shopping locally is very important in the Lehigh Valley, where there are a lot of chain stores, Anderson explained. "We're two hours west of New York City, and two hours north of Philadelphia. This is a very suburban area, very developed. There are two Barnes & Nobles and a Borders within 15 minutes of my store. Then there is the Internet competition."
As for the group's Main Street, Not Wall Street initiative, "people have lost faith with the economy," said Anderson. "No one understands exactly how it all happened. The local economy is a lot easier to understand. If small businesses make money, pay their bills, they stay open. If they don't, they close. I think people are coming back to local economies because it's just more comfortable."
Fortunately, thus far, business at the bookstore has been brisk. "Generally, I still feel pretty good. We've got a number of big name authors scheduled. Our head buyer is being more conservative, bringing in smaller quantities, but people are still buying books. Hour for hour, books are still a cheaper form of entertainment. I can't keep Dewey [The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, Grand Central Publishing] in stock, and that's a hardcover!"--David Grogan