San Francisco Booksellers Welcome Mayor’s B2B Shop Local Campaign

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Longtime Bay Area small business advocates Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books, and Hut Landon, Northern California Independent Booksellers Association executive director, this week welcomed the launch of a citywide business-to-business buy local campaign spearheaded by San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee.

In a statement on May 20, the mayor introduced SF Biz Connect, an initiative that challenges larger businesses with operations in San Francisco to sign a pledge to transfer at least five percent of their spending to local businesses.

“For the first time, the city is actually acknowledging there are some real benefits in supporting local small businesses, so for us it was really good news,” said Landon, who is also a co-founder and the executive director of the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Alliance (SFLOMA). “[SFLOMA has] pushed that particular message, although we certainly weren’t the only ones who did. I’m sure [City Hall] has heard it from other people. Personally, I’m just happy it happened.”

The San Francisco business environment has recently received widespread media attention. Last November, it became one of the first major American cities to approve an increase in the city’s minimum wage, to $15, and, since then, other cities including Chicago and, most recently, Los Angeles have also raised their minimum wage.

But in San Francisco, this change has been accompanied by a number of other new initiatives that put even more pressure on San Francisco’s small business community, which makes up 95 percent of the city’s 90,000 registered businesses.

Mulvihill, who is a SFLOMA co-founder and part of a small group of local business leaders that has quarterly meetings with the mayor to discuss a variety of issues, noted that “small businesses in San Francisco have been asked for a lot: mandatory health insurance for employees, mandatory sick leave, mandatory commuter checks.” But, he added, the effects of the SF Biz Connect initiative could help small businesses tackle some of these new challenges.

To date, Lee’s office has reported that a number of larger businesses with operations in the city, such as Recology, Airbnb, Pinterest, and the Hyatt Regency, have taken the pledge to shop local.

For many years, Landon and Mulvihill have been working to convince local officials that supporting small businesses makes solid economic sense and is good policy for the city.

In 2007, SFLOMA commissioned a study by the independent economic research firm Civic Economics, which found that diverting 10 percent of consumer purchases from chain stores to small businesses in San Francisco could create 1,300 new jobs and yield nearly $200 million in economic activity each year.

But SFLOMA has limited financial resources to commission such studies or to advertise the benefits of localism to legislators and consumers, said Landon, who noted that it is heartening that the city has put its considerable economic resources behind the message.

“SF Biz Connect challenges businesses to look to their neighbors when making purchasing decisions and to buy local,” stated Mayor Lee. “Supporting small businesses by shifting spending doesn’t cost a thing but makes a big difference to a small business’ bottom line.”

The mayor’s recent announcement of the initiative included statistics from the City Controller’s Office that show a one percent increase in spending at restaurants and retailers in neighborhood corridors would generate an additional $100 million for the city’s economy.

“The controller seeing [the value in] it is even better than a politician seeing it,” said Mulvihill. “It’s natural and scientific: policy instead of politics, so that is especially reassuring.”

The SF Biz Connect website, which sports the tagline “Businesses can shop local, too,” provides a platform for businesses to sign up for the pledge and lets both participating small and pledge businesses post testimonials online. The site also contains a searchable database of local and small businesses eager to provide services to those that have taken the pledge.