up this Saturday, a number of local businesses will start taking part
in a week long event to focus on everything Utahn!
Independents' Week kicks off this Saturday with a sidewalk party out
of Slowtrain Music on Broadway and a local cookoff challenge at the
downtown Farmer's Market. All a part of Local First Utah's
continued effort to promote local business and strengthen the
community. I got to chat with Local First Utah's Executive
Director Alison Einerson about the activities coming up this week, as
well as Local First and a number of other topics.
Gavin: Hey Alison. Tell us a little about yourself.
Alison: I'm Alison Einerson, Executive Director of Local First Utah. I've been with Local First for almost a year, and I've enjoyed being a part of such an important organization. I've worked in publishing, public relations, and the outdoor retail industry.
Gavin: For those out of state (or haven't been paying attention), tell us what Local First is.
Alison: Local First Utah is a not-for-profit organization that, through public education, seeks to strengthen communities and local economies by promoting, preserving, and protecting local, independently owned businesses throughout Utah. Organized in 2005 by a small number of volunteer business owners and community-minded residents, Local First Utah is now a vital organization with more than 1600 partners statewide. Local First Utah is open to all Utah businesses that are at least 51% locally-owned and make their business decisions independently. There is no class of membership in the organization and registration is free.
Gavin: It's only been around since mid-2005, why do you think it took so long to form this kind of an organization?
Alison: Local First was founded by a folks from a variety of backgrounds, and they are all very busy people! Many of them own their own businesses, some worked in civic positions, and many were community leaders. I think it took some time for people to get fed up with what they were seeing in their neighborhoods and finally band together to do something about it. There are many groups similar to ours around the country, but each group is unique and has to find its own direction and methodology. That takes time!
Gavin: Do most places embrace the idea, or are there any local businesses who refuse to be a part of it?
Alison: I've never had a local business refuse to become a member once they understand who we are and why we exist. I've had many franchise and non-locally owned businesses request to be a partner with us, and be upset when they don't fit the criteria and therefore can't sign up.
Gavin: How did you get involved with Local First?
Alison: I became familiar with Local First through the chair of the board, who I had worked with in a previous capacity. Once I learned about the organization, I immediately put a bumper sticker on my car and became a believer. I've tried to live the "buy local" lifestyle ever since!
Gavin: You were recently hired as the new Executive Director of Local First. How did that come about?
Alison: I signed up my previous employer, and had worked with the Board Chair in another capacity. When I left that job, this position as Exec Director was available, and by the grace of some God, I got the job!
Gavin: What's your take on the way local businesses hold up against national chains, both good and bad?
Alison: I think most independent businesses not only "hold up" against national chains, they outperform the chains in customer service, product uniqueness and selection, and contribution to community. In addition, chains frequently claim to have substantially lower prices, but this isn't necessarily true. It's important to compare prices and know what the local option is going to provide for you. It's often not only a competitive price, but also much better service, better warranty, better customer care, and just all around better satisfaction with your purchases. It's also nice to know that more of your money is staying in your community!
Gavin: Does it feel like Utah is starting to make a comeback as far as local businesses asserting themselves, or are we backtracking with the building of more Wal-Mart’s and the recent addition of IKEA?
Alison: Utah is most definitely embracing it's local businesses! Local First Utah is evidence of that! When business owners band together and share their strengths, it becomes much easier to get the message out about how local businesses contribute to community. Local business owners live here, their kids go to school here, and they run for office here. They are rooted in the community, and that means they are more likely to care about the community. We're not here to be negative or to say there's no place for IKEA in Utah. We simply want people to know there are many options, and that it matters where they spend their money. And we want people to help Utahns find our unique eateries, locally grown food, unique clothing stores, independent auto repair shop, and so on.
Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it better for local places?
Alison: There are many things that can be done in terms of local governments and policy makers. We need to give local businesses and entrepreneurs the same tax breaks and incentives that we offer to chains to locate here. We need to level the playing field so that the local guys get the same treatment as the large corporations that come in and make promises of tax revenue that rarely materializes. We need to make sure we're playing fair. We also need to educate ourselves on our local options! We need to remember to support local businesses whenever we can!
Gavin: Okay, a little on entertainment. What's your take on the local music scene, both good and bad?
Alison: Well, I wouldn't say I was an expert on the local music scene. I know there are many talented bands out there, including indy rock, bluegrass, and folk artists. There's a lot of good energy out there. I don't get out to the clubs much, so my experience with these is mostly at the bluegrass festivals, arts festivals, and so on.
Gavin: Same question, only on the local art scene.
Alison: We have a vibrant and talent-filled local art scene, as evidenced by the success of the Gallery Stroll events! Utah has some amazing galleries and and we have a longstanding tradition of incredible artists of all mediums.
Gavin: Again, same question, but this time on the film community. And no, not talking Sundance.
Alison: This one, I can't really speak to with any authority. But I'll assume it's true for film too! We can't possibly have Sundance and not have many great local filmmakers, right?
Gavin: One more time, only this time on local media, both in print and broadcasting.
Alison: I think we have more of a challenge in this area. We have some really great indy weeklies and music rags, but the newspaper and television scenes are somewhat more traditional... There are some great radio options in Utah though.
Gavin: If you had the opportunity, what would be the biggest change you would make to the way anything local is done?
Alison: I'm not sure I understand the question, but if I had a chance to make a big change, it would be to educate people that even little steps to go local make a big difference: buy your morning latte at an independent coffee shop rather than a chain, buy some tomatoes at a local farm stand instead of the supermarket. Buy a piece of local art as a gift, or select your cheddar from a local dairy. It all adds up and makes a huge difference to our economy.
Gavin: Tell us a little about Independents’ Week and how it got started.
Alison: Independents' Week was started as a way to highlight local independent businesses during the summer, using the July 4th holiday as a theme. It offers an opportunity to remind people to think locally while planning their summer fun and spending time with friends and family. Many organizations around the country similar to ours celebrate it and use it as an opportunity to raise awareness of the issue.
Gavin: What have you got planned for this year's activities?
Alison: Get Ready For Independents' Week 2008! Independents’ Week, June 28th through July 5th, celebrates Utah’s locally owned and independent businesses each year over the week of July 4th. It’s the perfect time to engage your customers and educate them about the importance of buying locally! Our theme this year is "Live Local," and we’ll be hosting events and spreading the word throughout the week on how to "live locally" and why it matters. The complete list of events can be found on the Local First Utah website main page.
Gavin: What can we expect from Local First the rest of the year?
Alison: We'll have a great fundraiser in late September, and another week of events and educational opportunities during Buy Local First Week, happening during the first week of December. Check our website for more information on those events.
Gavin: Anything you'd like to plug?
Alison: Just all the Indy Week events, and thanks again for highlighting us.