Thursday, July 09, 2009

Pick 3, Spend 50, Save Your Local Economy

I recently stumbled upon the web site for "The 3/50 Project" while doing some research on small businesses for my job and it made me think about our business districts. We've seen the loss of a number of businesses recently in town and I've wondered what we could do to help improve the viability of our local economy.

If you're a resident, it's pretty simple -- pick 3 and spend $50 each month to help our local economy. If you're a business, click on the resources page to see how you can promote the project right here in town to show your customers and visitors how important it is to spend their money locally.


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Blogger Dave Franklin said...

Great post Joe. Several years ago, a good Lebo friend who is part of a wildly successful family business, questioned my selection of an out-of-state microbrew over a Penn Pilsner. He spent the next 15 minutes lecturing me about the importance of spending my money locally. It's a simple concept really, but rarely do people stop to think about it. For example, before heading out to Denny's, McDonald's, Starbucks or Panera for that morning cup of coffee or a Saturday breakfast with the kids, stop and ask yourself, "Is there a locally-owned business that I can support instead?"

In Mt. Lebanon we are very fortunate to have a locally-owned business that can provide just about any product or service - and I'm not talking just about Rolliers! Frankly, I think that's one of the greatest features of Mt. Lebanon.

July 09, 2009 8:48 AM  
Blogger Mike Madison said...

As I've written before on the blog, I have mixed feelings about efforts like these.

It seems like a no-brainer to help out your friends and neighbors and the vitality of local business districts.

But while the psychic benefits are clear, the economic benefits are mixed.

It's mistaken to think of McDonald's and Starbuck's and Home Depot simply as faceless corporate monoliths. If you think that the food or the coffee is mediocre or worse (and in many cases I do), then don't shop there. But be careful of avoiding them solely because you want to support the local economy. Our friends and neighbors (and sons and daughters) work at these places, too, and in the case of franchises, our friends and neighbors may own the store. It's a fact of life that a healthy local economy needs a blend of local business and branches of larger businesses. And both need our support. I love Rollier's. But I also shop at Home Depot.

It's also a fact of life that some products -- micro-brewed beer, for example -- aren't commodities in the same way that nuts and bolts and tools are commodities. When I'm home, I usually buy beer for the taste, not its point of origin. (Over at Pittsblog recently, I shed no tears for Iron City's announced departure from the City of Pittsburgh.) Micro-breweries in other cities are local businesses there. When I travel, I usually try a local brew.

July 09, 2009 10:53 AM  
Blogger James Cannon said...

Mike, ironically Iron City was known to produce some incredibly good beers a few years ago. Twenty years ago when I had a German partner in a business here in Pittsburgh, we had many Germans visit Pittsburgh who universally commented that some of the special brews that Iron City were producing at the time were as good as anything they had in Germany. A lot of people don’t realize that for the first four years of its existence, all Sam Adams beers were produced by Iron City. If you can find an old bottle you will see in microscopic print the words, “produced under contract by Iron City Breweries”. I am not sure what happened with the company, but at one time they were one of the top quality producers in America.

July 09, 2009 11:10 AM  
Blogger Mike Madison said...

Iron City made the first of a series of bad bets about 20 years ago. Here is my post on the topic; be sure to read the comments as well.

The fact that Iron City "produced" Sam Adams is interesting, but in the end it isn't here or there. Sam Adams was and is a contract beer, meaning that it was and is brewed all over the country at non-Sam Adams breweries according to a recipe provided by Sam Adams (a/ka/ Boston Beer). From time to time, Sam Adams has brewed a little of its own beer up in Boston, but mostly Sam Adams is a recipe and a marketing plan. I like Sam Adams beer, but it's not a marvelous micro-brew.

In fact, I suspect that had Iron City been brewing and selling at capacity, and really hitting its mark in the local market, then it wouldn't have had much interest in brewing Sam Adams.

July 09, 2009 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Matt Hausmann said...

I wholeheartedly agree with the concept but I have to add one caveat: the product or service has to be good. I've heard more restauranteurs bemoan their lack of business and chant the buy local thing (a certain, vocal owner of a closed downtown Italian restaurant comes to mind). The reality was that his food was incedibly overpriced and not much better than my 10 year old's beloved SpaghettiO's.

So...Graham's betcha! Rolliers? But of course! Uptown Coffee? Bingo! Some other places...sorry...just can't do it.

July 09, 2009 5:10 PM  
Blogger Mike Madison said...

That's really the point, isn't it? Local businesses need to compete on quality (of the product and of the service), or price, or both. Most can't and shouldn't compete on location alone.

An exception, perhaps, is something like the new Eden's Market, on Alfred Street in the heart of Uptown. Eden's has healthy stuff -- and other stuff, too. The point of a convenience store is ... convenience. Go Eden's!

July 09, 2009 5:16 PM  
Anonymous RichW said...

FWIW, unless you're talking about Magic Johnson, there's no such thing as a Starbucks franchisee, so the "faceless monolith" applies there. Don't know enough about your other two examples to comment.

July 10, 2009 6:33 PM  
Blogger Mike Madison said...

Starbucks etc. were only examples; local people are engaged with the stores even if the product is mediocre or worse.

Even Starbucks has its uses. I'm at T-Mobile hotspot right now, in Munich, in a Starbucks.

July 11, 2009 10:29 AM  

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