As the nation’s biggest retailers roll out sales and specials for the holidays, local businesses are ramping up efforts to encourage residents to keep their dollars in La Plata County. One of their biggest projects of the year, the 2011 edition of the Be Local Coupon Book will hit stores this week.
With soaring sales over the last two years, the book has become central in efforts to promote local, independently owned businesses around the county.
The book is now produced by Local First, a Durango nonprofit organization that supports local, independently owned businesses and organizations.
The first Be Local Coupon Book, printed in 2008, sold 2,500 copies. This year, the book’s creators have high hopes that they will sell 4,000.
The number of businesses featured in the book has grown to 170, up from 140 last year.
Business owners said the book has brought more customers though their doors and Peter Schertz, co-owner of Maria’s Bookshop said they get many coupons back from customers throughout the year.
To be included in the book, business owners have to be members of Local First, which requires that they meet certain criteria and pay a membership fee.
Other owners said Be Local’s success has reinforced the value of their work.
“It’s gratifying that this community has a strong value set around taking care of local businesses,” said Tim Wheeler, an owner of the Durango Coffee Co.
When it first began, the book was the project of a small group of business owners, known as LOCAL, that saw it as a way to engage community interest in the area’s independent businesses. As support of the Be Local book grew, LOCAL members created a nonprofit with a director and a board of members to expand their work around the buy local message. Local First is the fruit of their work.
In addition to the coupon book, Local First spearheads an eat local campaign during the summer and recently took over Noel Night, the holiday celebration in downtown Durango, said LeAnn Vallejos, managing director of Local First.
The organization’s expansion reflects an increasing trend toward locally owned businesses. National nonprofits at the forefront of the movement report that it has continued to grow despite the economic recession.
“This year we have seen an explosion of interest,” said Jennifer Rockne, director of the American Independent Business Alliance. “Even big corporations are looking to support local business.”
A similar organization, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, reported adding 80 La Plata County business networks to its numbers since 2001, with 20 coming in this year alone.
Vallejos said buying local is especially important in today’s sluggish economy because it infuses the biggest economic boost into shrinking city budgets via sales tax.
“Many people think ‘I’m gonna go and buy a book online, and I’m going to get free shipping and save five dollars,’” she said. “They don’t realize that there is no sales tax generated on that purchase for local roads and schools.”
Independent businesses in the area also use local accountants, graphic designers and attorneys, Vallejos said, so their customers’ purchases are supporting employment in the community as well.
The Local First website cites findings from a Chicago-area study that locally owned businesses circulate 70 percent more money back into the local economy than chain stores.
Environmentally, buying foods and products made close to home helps people to reduce their carbon footprint, Vallejos said.
The community’s growing support of local, independently owned business also has a very personal angle, Schertz said.
“People have made a conscious choice to be here,” he said, “and they want to preserve what brought them here.”