New Study Presented at AIR Summit Identifies Top U.S. Cities for Independent Retail

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Ocean City, Bellingham, Medford, Carson City, and San Jose Lead the List

A new study presented at the first-ever national meeting of leaders of independent, local, and community-based businesses has ranked more than 300 U.S. metropolitan areas according to the vitality of independent retail. The study reveals that Ocean City, New Jersey; Bellingham, Washington; Medford, Oregon; Carson City, Nevada; and San Jose, California, are the country’s five most robust indie retail markets.

The study was released Tuesday, January 18,  at the first-ever Advocates for Independent Retail (AIR) National Leadership Summit, which brought together 50 leaders of national groups involved in local-first advocacy. Organized by the American Booksellers Association, AIR was formed to foster a national dialogue and cooperative efforts of the movement across business sectors. Attendees at Tuesday’s summit represented more than 20 different types of retail businesses, from booksellers to pharmacies to sporting goods stores; other participants came from national initiatives including American Express’ Small Business Saturday project, the 3/50 Project, Independent We Stand, and National Record Store Day.

ABA commissioned the Indie City Index in order to quantify the vitality of independent retail nationwide and to establish a basis for future research. Studies have already shown the robust economic benefits independent retailers provide their communities, and independent business advocates have long cited social benefits as well. Future, localized studies based on the Indie City Index will further examine independent retail and its relationship to American communities.

The strategic planning firm Civic Economics evaluated data for all 363 of the U.S. Census Bureau-designated Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), ranking them in order of the percentage of retail sales generated by locally-owned, independent businesses compared to sales generated by retail chains.

Other MSAs behind the top five include: Barnstable, Massachusetts; Austin; Texas; Dalton, Georgia; Glens Falls, New York; New York, New York; Santa Rosa, California; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Eugene, Oregon; Redding, California; and Corvallis, Oregon. Complete results of the study can be found at

Another study presented at AIR shed light on the success of buy-local movements. Conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the 2011 Independent Business Post-Holiday Survey found that retailers in cities with active buy-local initiatives had year-over-year revenue gains that were more than twice those of retailers in cities without such initiatives. The survey, which gathered data from nearly 2,800 independent businesses across all 50 states, found that independent businesses in cities with active buy-local or local-first initiatives had revenue gains in 2010 of 5.6 percent over 2009, compared to 2.1 percent for independent businesses in cities without such initiatives.

Watch for more on ILSR’s post-holiday study in next week’s BTW.