Patrick Robinson
Looking southbound down California Ave. S.W. in West Seattle, where many of the peninsula's local, independent retailers ply their trade.

Buy local campaign to encourage spending with West Seattle retailers

Thousands upon thousands of people will descend upon the West Seattle Junction retail core for Summerfest from July 12 – 14, and it will be a sight local independent retailers wish they saw every weekend.

In a nation beset with strip malls and corporate storefronts, West Seattle is a holdout of sorts with a strong locally-owned business culture, and a collaboration of those who pay attention to such things are firing up a “buy local” campaign to keep it alive and well.

Update: The buy local campaign now has a name!
West Seattle: We Have That More information found here.

The West Seattle Chamber of Commerce is working with the West Seattle Junction Association (WSJA) to educate both the public and retailers themselves on the importance of supporting our local economy.

“By and large this is going to be an editorial campaign to reach out to our neighborhood, to our community and to be educating our neighbors about the importance of shopping local, our local economy, over the course of the summer,” Susan Melrose with WSJA said.

The first sign of things to come will be stickers, window clings and buttons readily available at Summerfest, promoting the campaign slogan (yet to be unveiled). To follow will be educational and editorial opportunities.

Nancy Woodland, executive director of Westside Baby and a WS Chamber boardmember, said the goal is to “increase awareness and attractiveness of local business retail shopping.”

From the Chamber’s perspective, Woodland said, “It’s better for our economic base if all of our businesses are succeeding and that transfers all the way from the actual success of one business to the attractiveness of the apartments nearby, the attractiveness of buying single family homes, and whether a large corporation wants to put their headquarters here and have office space (in West Seattle) because their employees have a place to get a great lunch or get a perfect birthday present.”

The entrepreneurial life can be a hard one and most retailers operate on tight budgets, always hoping the good months will keep them afloat when the slow ones hit.

Melrose said a big part of the campaign will be highlighting all the things local businesses do for our community beyond setting up a storefront and putting products on the shelf.

“I think that the message that retailers would like to send is that if you value the small, independent businesses in your community then they need to be supported,” she said. “They are your neighbors doing business in West Seattle, they are employing your neighbors, and they are a vital piece of our community. They are giving to your schools, your PTA’s your local non-profits, and they are an integral part of our economy and we are all interconnected. Sometimes I think we get moving too fast and we need to get this need met and that need met, and fail to be as conscientious with our shopping decisions as we could be.”

“I think there is also this disconnectedness between the consumers and the shop owners where consumers don’t really understand what really goes into a storefront,” Woodland added. “The time, energy, thought and art; the value of that process is missed (by some).”

Beyond that, Melrose and Woodland said there are also social aspects of buying local, like walking down California Ave. (although the campaign is aimed at all retail, not just West Seattle’s “downtown”) and popping in to catch up with shop owners, creating community along the way and shooting the breeze like you would with a bartender.

Technology has become both a blessing and a curse for local retailers, providing more opportunity to reach out to customers (from Twitter and Facebook to online advertising and Yelp), but also providing potential customers with many, many more options as to where they’ll make that final purchase.

One of the hardest technological trends for retailers to endure is “showrooming,” where a customer uses a local shop to fall in love with and find their right size for, let’s say, a pair of shoes, but then pull the model up on Google and look for a cheaper price to buy online.

You have your blatant showroomers – those who find the item online while still in the store for a saddened retailer to see – and your subtle types who thank their retailer for their time, making a graceful exit before making that online payment behind closed doors.

The expenses built into providing a brick and mortar storefront certainly can lead to higher prices versus a slim-operating online-only retailer, so it becomes a personal question for each shopper: Do I want to save those dollars or support this local business?

“It’s really disappointing for the business owners who are out here providing an active storefront, contributing to the community and wanting to engage and provide something for their neighborhood and working really hard on doing that, and then to be undercut is just disappointing,” Melrose said.

As that Patti Page song goes:
How much is that doggie in the window?
The one with the waggly tail
How much is that doggie in the window?
I do hope that doggie is for sale

Updated for 2013, that last line might read, “I do hope I can find that doggie online with free shipping.”

“I think our neighborhood really does generally care about our business community,” Melrose said, and with the buy local campaign they hope to turn that ethic into more support for our shops.

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