One thing I’ve never done while shopping at a big-box or chain store is strike up a conversation with a complete stranger or introduce a friend or acquaintance to someone they had not yet met. I’ve had the exact opposite experience when I’ve shopped at locally owned, independent businesses across Central New York.
The other day I had several meetings at three locally owned businesses: Recess Coffee House and Roastery, in the Westcott neighborhood; Picasso’s Pastries, also on Westcott and fairly new to the neighborhood; and Café Kubal downtown, on Salina (yes, one of our favorite places to meet and greet).
During my first meeting – with Kate O’Hara, owner of Aromaste’ – Kate was kind enough to introduce me to someone I had never met. I like meeting new people. Kate also made me aware of Picasso’s, across the street from Recess. According to Kate, Picasso’s had “the best” freshly baked cinnamon buns in town (she may have said “on the planet”).
I’m not one to either turn down an opportunity for a cinnamon bun or to visit a new locally owned business. So, we decided to continue our meeting at Picasso’s. For the record, I’ve never (really) seen a bigger, more icing drenched yummy cinnamon bun in my life, and yes, it was awesome! Once again, Kate introduced me to someone I had never met.
Just another face, you say? No. Another person to interact with and another opportunity to spread the word about how buying and sourcing locally help build community spirit and economic growth in our community and, just maybe, in the process, make a new friend.
I headed on down to Café Kubal to meet with Lisa Cavallaro, of Thrive CNY. I met Lisa the week before last at the Natur-Tyme customer appreciation day, where Lisa met Matt Godard (owner of Café Kubal) and, for the first time, purchased some of his locally roasted coffee. You see, that was a “local interaction” since, in Lisa’s own words, she had been a “Starbucks snob” for years. Well, Lisa very much enjoyed Matt’s coffee at home, and that interaction motivated Lisa to think about “buying local.” The next thing we knew, Lisa and I were meeting at Matt’s place downtown.
During our meeting, I introduced Lisa to Benjamin Bragdon, community manager at Syracuse CoWorks, at the Technology Garden downtown. Lisa, like me, works out of her home. Lisa may have an interest at some point in renting space at CoWorks but more importantly, she had the opportunity to meet a stranger (a nice stranger at that) and expand her network of acquaintances she might do business with in the future. Great! Another connection made!
You see, when I’m out and about spreading the word with Chris Fowler about how buying locally works and what it means, I always (I emphasize the word always) meet at a locally owned business. You can usually find Chris and I wearing an “Eat Local,” “Beer Local,” “Coffee Local” or some other type of local T-shirt or polo shirt.
Here’s a good example: For my meetings that day, I wore a T-shirt gifted to me by Dick Benedetto, owner of Smoke Incorporated BBQ. I wore that shirt for a reason. I want others to know about Dick’s business (yes, I accept T-shirts to act a walking billboard – it’s what we localists do) and, as it happened that day while at Kubal, someone approached me before my meeting, introduced himself and said, “I’ve had some of his stuff. Awesome BBQ!” And, in the next few minutes while awaiting Lisa’s arrival, I had the opportunity to learn about what he did, who he worked for and of course, to share information about my business and SyracuseFirst, our network of locally owned independent businesses of like-minded individuals.
Another new connection (yes, we did the customary exchange of business cards) made simply by buying locally.
Whenever I’m wearing one of local shirts, it never fails that if I’m out walking about for more than an hour or so, someone will approach me and say, “Nice shirt.” Or, “Hey, like your shirt.” And those few words inevitably lead to a conversation. If they comment on the shirt, they either like the idea of buying locally or have a desire to learn more about the localist movement.
The designer of most of the buy-local T-shirts you’ll see me wearing in Syracuse happens to be on the team of 2nd Nature, in Syracuse. How did I know that? I didn’t. Until one night last year I was sitting outside The Blue Tusk restaurant and bar in Armory Square and a cigar-smoking, dog-toting guy (the dog’s name is Tusk, just for the record) who was relaxing with a local brew looked over at me and said, “I like your shirt.” I responded with the standard, “Thank you, I wish everyone in Syracuse wore one of these.” To which Joel Fairbank (the gent’s name) responded, “Me, too, our team designed them.”
Another local connection, and now someone I consider a close acquaintance and possibly, a new friend as we connect more often.
Buy local. Connect.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS – INDIE BUSINESS OWNERS
Business: Lune Chocolat
Owner: Mike and Emily Woloszyn
What it does: Specialty premium chocolate makers
The local economy is very important to us at Lune Chocolat. Buying local for us means three things.
First, as business owners, we have the ability to talk to our sources. Those sources may be farmers or shop owners, but we meet them and we can state our expectations about quality and quantity. We support their businesses.
Buying Local also equates to getting the freshest ingredients possible. When we source from local producers, we get the freshest possible fruits and vegetables. In chocolate, taste is everything. The fresher the ingredients, the fresher the taste experience. In most cases, we can get our ingredient from the farmer or the market and process them, and within a few hours they would be in a finished chocolate product.
One of the most important aspects of buying local is our relationship with our community. We are all citizens of this wonderful community. We can support our local businesses and help our local economy grow. What we spend in and around our local community at small locally owned businesses stays within our community and thus creates growth. This money gets reinvested right here, and it’s so nice to see the growth within your own front yard.
Owner: Kate O’Hara
What it does: Producers of aromatherapy products and related services
As a Syracuse native, I want to see Syracuse thrive. I want it to have a healthy, happy community of successful entrepreneurs. I want our young people to have successful mentors to look up to. We are on our way with the Buy Local movement.
We have passionate chefs, yoga studios and countless, talented artisans. We need more. More locally owned businesses means more money circulating in our local economy. When you support local restaurants, shops, artists, musicians, yogis, therapists, you help them provide things like piano lessons from a local musician for their children. It’s a cycle of support that we all need to be more conscience about.
Over the past few years, I have watched Syracuse grow. Organizations like SyracuseFirst and people like Brian at GeoDux and other members of SyracuseFirst have arrived on the scene to cheer local businesses on and to encourage us to spend our dollars locally. The box stores and chain restaurants serve a purpose for some people’s needs (you can’t buy everything locally), however, many of our needs can be often better served by local producers and providers. Every day we vote with our dollars and buying decisions. We vote to keep local businesses open when we choose a mom-and-pop shop over a chain store, or when we purchase carrots and eggs from a local farmer. We have so many natural local resources! We are blessed with abundant apple orchards, vineyards and so much more. We need to get back to our roots.
As a nationally certified clinical aromatherapist, I choose to use local beeswax, sunflower and grape seed oil, locally grown lavender and herbs in my all-natural product line, Aromaste’ Clinical Aromatherapy.
I am happy and proud to be part of such a talented, productive, hard-working community. Choosing local means putting Syracuse, the Finger Lakes region and Central New York first.
Business: Pizza Promos
Owner: Steve Thomas
What it does: Search engine and text advertising for local pizza shops
Pizza Promos promotes, supports and buys from locally owned independent pizza shops. We enjoy buying from locally owned, independent businesses and feel it is important for many reasons.
These businesses support other locally owned independent businesses more than a national chain does. Locally owned, independent businesses are much more likely than a national chain to hire a local accountant, attorney, insurance agent, marketing company, real estate agent and the list goes on. They are also more likely to look for other local sources for their day-to-day operational needs.
More of the profits earned by a locally owned, independent business remains here in Syracuse and Central New York since the owner of the business more than likely lives in CNY. Since more of the profits stay here, more spending will take place here on groceries, local restaurants, entertainment, etc.
Plus you get to interact with the owners of the business, who takes a lot of pride in what they do. The quality of the product you are buying will be better if the owner is directly involved. Just think about your favorite pizza place; many times, your pizza is made by the owner!
These businesses are more active in the community and more likely to donate to non-profit groups. It improves the CNY/Syracuse economy, which makes CNY/Syracuse a better place to live.
Business: Primo & Mary’s Heritage Products
Owner: Tina McPherson
What it does: Manufacture premium salsa
When was the last time you walked into a franchise bar or restaurant that you regularly frequented and the owner bought you a drink? Would you even know the owner?
I grew up in a family-owned restaurant business, and we knew who our customers were, we appreciated them and we took good care of them in return for their patronage. Buying a drink for a regular customer said we appreciate and value your business. We greeted regulars by name when they walked in the door. It’s what makes them feel at home and want to come back time after time. Customers become extended family to most small businesses.
We do this because we genuinely care about our customers, love what we do and I’ve chosen to continue that tradition in the small business I’ve created.
When your local school or community needs sponsors for a school play, program or fundraiser, the first place they go are local small business, not to franchises. Stop in a big box store and ask for a gift basket or donation, and they’ll tell you to fill out a form. Good luck ever hearing back. Small businesses support local!
Small business is what makes a community strong in so many ways. In my small business alone, I’ve supported a local company for my label design, the purchase of my jars, labels and lids, a local photographer, printing company, marketing company and the list goes on. I’m happy to know every one of them by name, and they know mine. That’s what “Buy Local” means to me.
Business: Smoke Incorporated BBQ
Owner: Dick Benedetto
What it does: BBQ Catering Service
I feel pretty fortunate as an independent business owner in Syracuse. Because of what I do, I get to get out and interact with a lot of other locally owned businesses because I do a lot of Syracuse events with them, source some of my product from them and, since joining SyracuseFirst, made a lot of new friends.
I believe small businesses, at one time, were the backbone of the stability of our local economy and national economy. I believe it can be like that again. Here in Syracuse, this Buy Local movement is really making a difference. A big difference. It was Brian who brought me into the “local loop,” if you will and he’s one example of how we all stick together and help promote each other so we can grow together.
The fact that about 73 cents or more of every dollar you spend with a locally owned business stays circulating in our local economy as opposed to only about 43 cents when you spend that same buck at a big-box or chain makes an enormous difference and, in my opinion, it’s really starting to show in Syracuse. My business is growing because of the Buy Local movement but, by that I mean, you, the owner, have to buy into the movement by helping to spread the word. We all have a responsibility to help each other grow.
I’m also a member of CenterStateCEO and do events through them and with them as I do with SyracuseFirst. Between those two and staunch vocal advocates like Brian who help people to really “get it” has made all the difference in my business and I’m looking forward to doing even more. I would encourage every small local business to get involved. Soon. We need each other.
Business: Kinani Blue
Owner: Craig Laughlin
What it does: Social media marketing solutions
There’s something to be said about feeling comfortable. Feeling at home. I moved to Syracuse in 2010. I had lived on both coasts, as well as over the pond in London, England, but no matter where I laid my head at night, I never felt more “at home” than I did when I moved to Syracuse. I had done my best to support small business and entrepreneurs my entire adult life, but there was something different about the community here. There was trust. Support. And beyond the consumer/vendor paradigm that exists in every community, there were relationships.
Relationships: The way in which two or more concepts, objects or people are connected, or the state of being connected.
As I witnessed these relationships first hand, I started to truly understand the value and rewards of supporting “local.” Local vendors. Local resources. Local sports, etc. We are a community, and a community devoid of relationships has no real chance to prosper. I increased my awareness and began practicing, more diligently, the efforts of my peers who rallied behind the “10 percent shift” modality. (For those that might not be aware of it, that’s the potential increase in revenue for the local economy should we as members of this community simply shift 10 percent of our spending habits in the direction of local vendors and resources.)
Supporting “local” is a self fulfilling prophesy. We get what we put in. We can’t wait for Syracuse to give to us. We need to invest our time, our energies and 10 percent of our spending locally. When we do, we will see – we will all see – just how giving and fulfilling our great city of Syracuse really is.
Brian Kingsley is a marketing, advertising and promotions consultant and owner of GeoDux Small Business Services. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chris Fowler is the executive director of SyracuseFirst, a not-for-profit network of locally owned, independent organizations encouraging citizens to “Think Local First.” Email him at email@example.com.