SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. The first real snag came around Day 120. For four consecutive months, the Levitch family had stuck to their 365-day pledge to go local forgoing Starbucks venti iced teas for blends sold from a Scottsdale vendor, trading the sales rack at Anthropologie for secondhand shops, switching from a grocery chain to the farmers market, even skipping a school event because it was at McDonalds and not an independent eatery.
Who could have guessed that their socially conscious, yearlong quest to buy strictly from locally owned businesses would be imperiled by ... socks?
But there was 7-year-old Rex removing his shoes at a birthday party to reveal a rip perfectly sized to allow his big toe to play peek-a-boo.
Being local isnt so cool when your kids are wearing holey socks and showing them to all your friends, his mother wrote in a blog chronicling this family of fours adventures in localism. Are we local or loco? Im not so sure.
Julie Levitch isnt exactly the activist type. Shes a suburban mom with a taste for Old Navy tank tops, Chipotle tacos and Kate Spade handbags. She; husband, Randy; and their two boys, Rex and 4-year-old Judd, live in a manicured neighborhood in the resort playground that is Scottsdale, with a strip mall on every corner at the busy intersection just down the road.
She was, before Jan. 1, a rather typical consumer: Starbucks, Costco, Target.
Then one day last November, the Levitches arrived at a favorite restaurant a mom-and-pop Middle Eastern place next to a Subway in one of those nearby malls to find an out-of-business sign on the door. It was hardly an unusual sight in a debilitated economy, but what happened next is less common: This ordinary American family took it upon themselves to do what they could to help.
One Local Family was born, and the Levitches became part of a growing nationwide movement to promote the merits of supporting local businesses.
A lot of businesses went under in the last few years, but this one really hit home, 42-year-old Julie said of the shuttered restaurant. The husband-and-wife owners did all the cooking, greeted their customers, remembered their names a throwback to what America was before the chain-store sameness of today.
Yet when Julie mentioned this loss, others shrugged. So Julie, who runs her own marketing company, and Randy, 50, who manages a portfolio of small businesses for American Express, decided to change their own ways and blog about their efforts in hopes of inspiring others to follow.
The localism movement has taken many forms in past years: Urbanites growing their own corn or raising chickens. Farmers markets cropping up in metroplexes. Restaurants advertising locally produced ingredients. But with the backlash against big-box retailers and an economy purging small businesses everywhere, buy local has gone from a mere trendy catchphrase to a more widely recognized way of bolstering the U.S. economy one community at a time.
This is the way people believe ... you can save the world, said Michael Shuman, who travels the country helping communities jump-start buy local endeavors. He sees banks offering certificates of deposit that invest solely in local businesses, coupon programs targeting local merchants and mentorship programs for independent business owners.
The Levitches are hardly the farming types she grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, he in Spokane, Wash. so they figured theyd take a more practical approach to localism by simply shifting their purchasing decisions for one full year. Practical, perhaps. Simple? Hardly, especially with two young boys who crave Chick-fil-A kids meals and need underwear.
Things started out smoothly enough: They opened a local bank account. Started Googling for locally owned grocery stores. (There was actually one just up the street.) Julie found Local First Arizona, a buy-local coalition with some 2,000 members, and quickly had a list of options for dining, entertainment, necessities. More Internet sleuthing turned up some locally owned gas stations.
As readers found the One Local Family blog, suggestions flowed in: A tea shop for Julies caffeine fix, a reminder that PetsMart is based in Arizona (a good thing for Captain Ziffel, the tabby cat.)
The family has visited local farms and found a place to rent camping equipment for a Cub Scout outing. And while some individual items cost more, Julie estimates her family has actually saved money by shopping less and avoiding frivolous purchases.
But not all has been easy.
When Rexs school held a fundraiser at McDonalds, Randy and Julie endured stamping feet as they explained to their first-grader why they couldnt attend.
Last month yet another obstacle cropped up: School supplies. Luckily, the local grocery store had all the required glue sticks, notebooks, crayons and folders. Only thing missing: a headset for computer lab, and there was an extra at home. We spent $65 on everything we needed for second grade. No muss, no fuss, Julie wrote in the blog, musing that if the parents of all 700 students at the school bought their supplies in a similar manner, some $455,000 would have been spent at local businesses.
One recent study in Grand Rapids, Mich., showed that for every $100 spent at a local business, $73 remained in the local economy compared with $43 if that same $100 was spent at a non-local merchant.
The Levitches have demonstrated how just one family can have an effect.
Its incredibly important what theyre doing, said Kimber Lanning, founder of Local First Arizona. The takeaway for people is that every dollar counts.
Scottsdale business owner Kate Tanner can attest to that. Tanner, who owns a toy store called Kidstop, heard about One Local Family and invited Julie to the store. Kidstop soon became the subject of a blog entry and THE place Julie began recommending to friends for local toys.
Has the publicity helped Tanners 12-year-old business? Absolutely, she said.
Perhaps most heartening is the influence the familys efforts have had on others. The baby sitter promised to shop locally as much as possible. Randys co-workers, when choosing a lunch spot, know without asking that it has to be locally owned.
It kind of gets everybody thinking about it, said Randy, though few are ready to adopt the familys yearlong pledge.
Come January, the Levitches acknowledge they arent likely to stay 100 percent local either, though they know that their purchasing patterns and mindset about what keeps a communitys economy afloat have been forever changed.
Are we going to be as extreme? Probably not, said Julie. I think it irritates some people when we say we cant go to dinner at such-and-such place. Not everybody finds it as entertaining as we do.
Julies mom included. When she read the blog post describing Julies solution to the sock dilemma (she finally found some $8 socks from a locally owned running store), a care package soon arrived in the mail, boys socks inside. Julie later learned theyd been purchased at ... Walmart.
Yeah, well, she said of her mothers endowment. She thought that was a little too far.