I’ve just finished reading Big Box Swindle and there are a number of examples of how some cities have gone about promoting their independent stores.
Austin has an annual event called Austin Unchained. Held on a Saturday in November, this is a call to residents to shop only at locally owned business for the day. This gave them the opportunity to talk about the value of independent business and the economic implications of spending money at locally owned businesses. In the case of Austin, the impact of shunning the chains for local stores for a day was $14m.
A free and widely available directory of local businesses, organized by category. The guide identifies alternatives to chain stores and is also loaded with facts about the economic and community contributions of locally owned businesses.
Raleigh offers a discount card that sells for $25 and provides a year’s worth of discounts at locally owned businesses.
Santa Fe has a loyalty program that enables people to rack up and redeem rebates by shopping locally. After the deduction of a fee to fund the program, half the rebate goes to support a school or any non-profit chosen by the cardholder. The other half accumulates on the card and can be spent at any participating local business.
I recognize that not all the above examples may be appropriate for Alameda (given that one of our problems has been the lack of significant retail and the result leakage of revenue). But with all the proposed developments and the inevitable entry of the so-called “big box” stores, some of the options listed above might provide opportunities to nurture the existing independent retailers and help build customer loyalty. In particular, I think the approach of using the rebates to fund a local school/non-profit can be a very compelling differentiator.