Some of Columbia’s independent businesses have officially decided to depend on each other.
After months of discussion, about a dozen local business owners are ready to form an independent business alliance.
Columbia Locally Owned Retail and Services has a two-fold mission, said Leigh Lockhart, co-chair of the organization. Members will support each other’s marketing and promotions and educate the public about the importance of where they spend their money.
“It’s no fun to see the consumer droids go into chains and not even think about it,” said Lockhart, who owns the vegetarian restaurant Main Squeeze on Ninth Street.
It’s not just the local impact of large chains that worries her, she said, but also their employment practices, such as outsourcing jobs overseas to pay unfair wages.
The new organization will join the American Independent Business Alliance, or AmIBA. It is a national group promoting independent business founded in 1998 and based in Bozeman, Mont. AmIBA offers marketing materials, event speakers and other resources for independent businesses. Lockhart said consumers seeking locally owned shops will recognize AmIBA’s national logo, which Columbia member stores will now display in their windows.
The Columbia group will be Missouri’s second member of the national business alliance. The first, Build St. Louis, joined seven months ago, after more than a year of organizing. The group of 90 businesses has focused its economic policies on University City, a municipality of 50,000 people within St. Louis.
Its shopping guide is available online and 30,000 print copies are offered in member stores. Director Michael Levinson said funding comes from business dues and from individuals in the community who have joined the alliance to help support the cause.
When 600 people have joined, Build St. Louis will create a discount card that can be used at member businesses.
“We’ve had some success creating a media presence and also doing some advocacy for economic development,” Levinson said.
Build St. Louis was nominated to the University City economic development advisory board to apply some of their proposals, Levinson said.
The Columbia organization also hopes to benefit from any lobbying by the national alliance, Lockhart said.
“When big corporations go to Washington, me and Lisa (Bartlett, owner of The Vintage Shop) don’t have anybody,” she said.
AmIBA Outreach Director Jeff Milchen said the group’s main goal is to help local alliances organize. Next week it will put out policy suggestions.
Lockhart said she didn’t expect the Columbia group to have an adversarial relationship with large chains. She pointed out that her own business is surrounded by three chains: recent downtown addition Nothing But Noodles directly across the street and Panera Bread and Subway both two doors down. Lockhart said the owner of Nothing But Noodles has come by to say hello.
The group, consisting mostly of downtown businesses, will also invite independent business owners beyond downtown to join the alliance. Some members of the group already practice cross-marketing partnerships, wit many advertising for each other within their own stores.
Two current members will promote each other through shared space. The Arsenic Leopard, which sells books and local artworks, will move two doors east on Walnut Street in October. It will occupy half of the Vintage Shop, formerly Absolute Vintage, and the stores will be connected by an archway.
Lisa Bartlett, owner of the Vintage Shop and business alliance co-chair, said sharing space will help both stores because they already share a customer base.
The new spot will better serve the Arsenic Leopard as a display and studio space, store owner Jesse Lawson said.
A membership drive is under way, but others may join through the group’s Yahoo chat group, colorsalliance.