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Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.
Where the guy who fixes your car lends you a bicycle to go tooling around the neighborhood because he knows you’ll bring it back.
Where you can fish through a stack of crossword puzzles and games to noodle on while you sip your tea, and nobody looks at you funny if you stay long enough to knock off a few games of checkers, or finish that research paper.
Where you can visit a neighborhood restaurant and the waitress asks your kid when school starts.
If all that character and diversity isn’t enough reason to shop locally, ShoLo is more than happy to fill in the practical details. Formed in October 2008, the South Bend-based ShoLo Independent Business Alliance Inc. is working to encourage shoppers to patronize locally owned, independent businesses in St. Joseph County whenever possible.
Beyond the immediate effect of payroll, according to the group’s website, ShoLo.org, independent businesses bank locally; hire local accountants, attorneys and consultants and graphic designers; and advertise in local media.
“We’re trying to challenge people to commit to spending 10 percent of their income locally,” says Rebecca Maalouf, owner of Camellia Cosmetics at Eddy Street Commons and a spokesperson for ShoLo. “Ten percent is doable, and each person can make a difference. Once you make that conscious decision, it tends to happen fairly easily.”
Small changes, large impact
That figure — 10 percent — has become a rallying cry of sorts for groups around the country advocating the benefits of shopping locally. It derives at least in part from the work of Civic Economics, an economic analysis entity that has conducted several economic-impact studies around the United States.
Although specific figures vary somewhat by geographic region and city size, one thing is clear: A 10-percent focus on shopping locally brings real economic gains to local economies.
In a city comparable to South Bend, it was found that if area residents were to redirect just 10 percent of their total spending from chains to local businesses, it would create nearly $140 million in new economic activity for the region and 1,600 new jobs.
Other studies by the group have shown that for every $100 spent locally, about $45 is returned to the local economy. The same $100 spent at a chain netted only about $13.
How might that 10 percent look?
|Camellia store owner, Rebecca Maalouf|
Maalouf readily rattles off a list of goods and services that can easily be bought locally.
“The no-brainer is food,” she says. “Why go to a chain restaurant when you have such local splendor? A local restaurant is going to be so much better than a national brand.”
Similarly, local retail offers the opportunity to buy unique, one-of-a-kind items from local owners who know the local market and their customers well.
“We know what our clients need,” says Maalouf, whose cosmetics boutique caters to a variety of local customers ranging from modeling agencies to TV stations to walk-ins seeking image consultation or a makeover for a special event. “Our marching orders aren’t coming down from the corporate level, so we can be responsive to what our customers really need and want.”
Services such as accountants and attorneys are also a convenient way to keep local dollars in the community.
Tamara Nicholl-Smith, director of downtown business recruitment for Downtown South Bend, appreciates the rich variety of locally owned businesses and the clientele they attract.
“What’s vital about locally owned franchises is that the owner is present,” Nicholl-Smith says. “When you walk into local stores, there’s a strong likelihood that you will meet the owner. They know all about the city. They are available for local business promotions and other events. The decision-makers live in the community.”
Here’s a sampling of what you can find in the various business districts.
Downtown: Bombay International
|Mariam Malkovsky’s daughter Karina shows off her Bombay International style against a backdrop of the store’s offerings.|
Mariam Malkovsky is a woman on a mission.
“My goal is not just to be a businesswoman, but to make a difference,” she says.
Growing up in India, the owner of Bombay International was fortunate to have parents who emphasized a good education for their daughter — an attitude that stood in marked contrast to prevailing cultural norms.
For her, that fortune has translated into the opportunity to own a successful business specializing in handmade, colorful items bought directly from independent artisans.
Malkovsky hopes to pass along her good fortune to other women by working in fair-trade arrangements with international groups that will train and contract with local women in India to sew Malkovsky’s clothing designs. She will then secure opportunities to sell their work in local stores.
“We women have to stick together,” she says. “We have it so hard in so many places around the world, we need to be nice to each other.”
East Bank Village: Piser Designs
|Larry Piser, owner of Piser Designs|
You nearly always can find Larry Piser in his workshop at the back of his store, if you don’t see him in the front of the store.
The creator of a unique design that features his trademark bell-bottomed legs, Piser melds a modern Asian elegance with the sturdiness of traditional Shaker furniture to fashion one-of-a-kind pieces for his clientele.
“My customers typically want something that is different and personalized,” he says. “Maybe they need a bigger dining room table, or they need six drawers instead of four. I needed a location that would allow me the space to have a shop. That’s what brought me to the East Bank Village neighborhood. There’s a lot of life in this neighborhood.”
River Park: Avenue Automotive
With his dynamic personal charisma, the owner of Avenue Automotive could be a high-powered business executive for a national brand.
But Bob Pellegrino’s already been there and done that. The former franchise owner for a national automotive chain says he doesn’t miss the high-stress days of running three stores with multiple service bays and large staffs.
“The stress was overwhelming,” he says. “My wife and I sold the final shop and then this corner came up for sale. I could see the potential because there’s a nice neighborhood flavor.
“It’s amazing how nice your bottom line can be if you’re a small shop,” he adds. “Our costs are much lower here. But it’s not all about the money. I like to stand out here on the stoop and have people wave at me and honk.”
The River Park Business Association, of which Pellegrino is currently president, is a commercial district that extends from Jefferson Street to the river, and from Logan Street to the Farmers Market. The association maintains a very high profile in the neighborhood, organizing events to spruce up commercial buildings, collaborating with neighborhood churches to provide gift baskets and holiday meals for families experiencing hard times, and working with the neighborhood association to offer festivals and parades to enhance neighborhood cohesiveness.
The business association meets once a month at Allie’s Café just down the street from Pellegrino’s shop. There, visitors can find a selection of fresh, well-prepared vegetarian selections among the standard family-style menu items.
A rich experience
In short, while there are many practical and altruistic reasons to shop locally, perhaps the most important reason of all is simply what the shopper will get out of it — such as the welcoming, artsy ambience at Chicory Café.
“The experience is richer,” says Maalouf, “if you make the effort to support the local merchants.”
And they’re always glad you came.