Breaking news: You’re in Boulder. Or Longmont, or Lafayette, or Nederland, or Louisville.
Now that you’re aware of it, spend like it, says local entrepreneur Richard Fleming.
“You’re in Boulder to have the unique Boulder experience,” Fleming says. “You don’t go to Pearl Street to shop at Armani.”
Fleming, who owns Boulder video marketing firm Creative Coop, is part of a buy local movement that encourages consumers to spend at locally owned, independent stores rather than chains. The president of the Boulder Independent Business Alliance, Fleming says BIBA aims to encourage and promote Boulder’s thriving local business scene.
“Local businesses are what give Boulder its unique flavor,” Fleming says.
For real estate investor Michael Moran, part of the reason local businesses are important is to create a sense of community. Moran, also a member of BIBA, says local businesses mean personal connections.
“You get to know the owner, they get to know you,” he says. “It feels like you’re in a neighborhood.”
Even within the city, though, buying local doesn’t mean the same to everyone. And to some, it might not mean anything at all.
RUNNING UP THAT HILL
“Anyone that comes into that school from out of state, they have no idea what it means to buy local,” Fleming says of the University of Colorado. He says local businesses aren’t given enough attention or priority on the Hill, an area he calls “a goddamn disaster” and “an economic catastrophe.”
Fleming says CU needs to step up. “Tell students as they come in, ‘Hey, Del Taco is not where you want to eat,’” he says. “You have kids saying, ‘Where’s the Taco Bell? Where’s the 7-Eleven?’” (Actually, there’s a 7-Eleven opening at 13th and College Avenue.)
Where Fleming seems frustrated, Moran seems hopeful.
“Some of these younger kids are so much more hip to the idea of buying Boulder,” Moran says. He says even though many people are aware of the catchphrase “Buy local,” he sometimes faces an uphill battle explaining the movement.
“When I say, ‘Buy local,’” he says, “they say, ‘I shop in Boulder.’” That’s not enough, Moran says, since shopping in Boulder isn’t shopping local if you’re just going to the chains. But when people hear the concept, he says it’s usually well-received.
“They go, ‘Oh, we love that idea.’ So people are real excited about it when they hear it,” he says. Moran says for now outreach to the public is one of BIBA’s main priorities.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Let’s get technical for a minute. What, exactly, qualifies a business as local?
“With BIBA,” Fleming says, “we have a 60-mile radius. ... We’re defining local businesses as businesses that are independently developing, not getting help from outside sources.”
So, there: a local business. Except it’s not that easy. One gray area is places like independently owned car dealerships, which often fit the local-business ownership model but are still part of international brands. Fleming says they aren’t in the same category as strictly local operations.
“You receive your name, your credibility, your advertising clout — all that comes from a corporation,” Fleming says.
Moran says it’s more important to examine how a business relates to its community.
“We’re struggling around some definitions,” he says, “like Fisher Chevrolet [Honda]. They’ve been here God knows how many years, and it’s a family-owned dealership. They’re local and they invest in the community. That is a locally owned business, in my mind.”
Then there’s a business like McGuckin, the hardware store that’s been a Boulder cornerstone since 1955. It’s locally owned, to be sure, now by founder Bill McGuckin’s son-in-law, Dave Hight.
The problem is, almost all of its products aren’t local. McGuckin aims to buy local, but hinges, nails and PVC pipe haven’t been Boulder manufacturing staples since, well, ever.
Randy Barker, marketing director for McGuckin, says the store sells local products when it can.
“We do make an effort, when we’re approached by local manufacturers ... who have products that they’re trying to sell,” he says. He mentions locally made honey, lip balm and glue as Boulder items currently on McGuckin shelves.
“I think the owners here feel like they’ve really been a part of the development and growth of Boulder. I think it’s part of the roots of the community,” Barker says.
IT JUST MAKES … WAIT FOR IT … CENTS
Buying local isn’t just about building a community. It’s also about building a tax base. “More money stays within the local community,” Moran says. “You prop up the tax base by buying locally, and you create a culture of connecting with your community.”
Fleming says money spent at a local business has a greater chance of remaining in the community: 45 to 68 cents of a locally spent dollar stays in town, depending on where you live, he says; out of a dollar spent at a chain store, 14 cents stays.
He says in some industries, local businesses help support each other, like Colorado’s burgeoning craft brewing industry and the liquor stores that sell their products. Since state law requires liquor stores to be independently owned, brewers have an easier time selling through them than they would a statewide chain.
“We have really small breweries and distilleries popping up,” he says. “They couldn’t just walk into King Soopers and say, ‘Sell our stuff,’ but they could walk into Superior Liquor.”
In this way, he says, the local businesses need and support each other.
SHOP LOCAL ON YOUR MOBILE
BIBA’s next step, Moran says, is launching a “Local and Loving It” marketing campaign that will promote local businesses of all kinds.
And Moran says he sees some hope in new legislation that could pull together various local businesses into one smartphone app database.
“The Senate bill  is a great idea,” he says, but a statewide solution might be slow, expensive and clunky. Moran says he’s considering getting a Boulder database started to solve the problem from the ground up.
“I might ask Boulder business people if they wanted an app to find independent local businesses in Boulder,” he says. “Most problems are better solved from the grassroots level. You build it up and build it out.”