The Bucks Stop Here

By Beacon Staff

Sam Ayala, part owner of Kalispell’s Glacier Subaru, knew there was interest among other Flathead business owners in a buy local campaign. Having worked on a similar effort in Yakima, Wash. about 10 years ago, he felt confident it was something he had the time and know-how to get started.

Still, he wondered how many would jump on board when he put out the call to action.

“The Friday after I ran a letter about it in the newspaper, I must have gotten 20 phone calls from local business people who were interested,” Ayala said.

Three days later, Tom Heatherington of MontanaSky.net was in his office offering to help, and within two weeks the grassroots movement had a Web site, a logo and a growing membership. Ayala estimated that by mid-February about 40 businesses will be involved.

The group’s message is simple: It’s in people’s self-interest to buy at independently owned local businesses because a larger share of the money they spend there remains in the local economy. “If you buy local you might be paying your neighbor’s mortgage,” Ayala said.

There’s no cost to join Buy Local Flathead, Ayala said. Members are asked to include the group’s logo in their advertising and on their Web site, and are encouraged to spread the word about the benefits of buying local.

The effort, which is new to the Flathead Valley, is part of a national movement that began nearly a decade ago and now includes dozens of cities from coast to coast, including Boulder, Colo., Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas.

Proponents of buy local campaigns argue that locally owned businesses are more likely than their corporate counterparts to recirculate consumer dollars into the community through employees’ wages and purchases at other area businesses. In addition, local businesses turn money back into the community through school funding, social services, and contributions to local nonprofit organizations. Economists call this a “multiplier effect.”

While statistics on the impact of local spending vary widely, the Flathead group cites some commonly used numbers from two groups, Civic Economics and Sustainable Seattle. That study showed that for every $1 in consumer spending at a national chain, the local economic impact was 15 cents. The same amount spent at locally based store yielded 45 cents, or more than three times the local economic impact.

“We want to encourage awareness and get people to think twice before they spend, and ask themselves if it’s something they can get from a local store,” Ayala said.

Beyond the financial benefits, Buy Local Flathead members note that local businesses also bring more intangible perks to the valley, including personalized attention, diverse shopping options, downtown vitality and character.

Gregg Davis, an economics professor at Flathead Valley Community College, warns that buy local movements walk a fine line, because corporate-owned businesses and national chains are also a vital part of the area’s economy.

“If it’s an appeal to not order out to Cabela’s when you can get something here at Sportman’s, that fine,” he added. “It’s when the attitude is totally exclusionary that things unravel real quick.”

But supporters like Heatherington say the Flathead campaign’s message is a positive one and note that it doesn’t call for boycotting national chains. Local business owners just want a level playing field in an environment in which small businesses are being squeezed by the economic downturn and corporate competitors.

“Wal-mart can afford a little bit softer sales in Kalispell than a local vendor can,” Heatherington said. “Anything we can do to prop up this local economy is wonderful. It’s really a matter of conscience at this point.”

Check it Out:

To learn more about Buy Local Flathead, visit the group’s Web site at www.buylocalflathead.org or email Sam Ayala at sam@glaciersubaru.com

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