During 2012, two new restaurants opened in Boardman, Ohio. Cheddar’s Casual Cafe and Magic Tree Pub & Eatery. From my observations of eating at Magic Tree and often driving past Cheddar’s, the later is always packed, and Magic Tree is sometimes busy but empty other times. Magic Tree has a fantastic, creative menu with craft beers. It is one of the most unique restaurants in the area. Cheddar’s is the 80th franchise of an Arlington, Texas based company. During the construction of the building, a banner proudly displayed the construction company was based out of Texas. Magic Tree is locally owned and the owner is usually there to treat customers to fantastic service.
Why does a locally owned restaurant see no loyalty versus a chain restaurant owned and built by folks from Texas?
Lack of awareness? No incentive? I don’t know.
Here are my suggestions for how to build up the local economy:
- The Youngstown area needs an aggressive ‘buy local’ campaign to encourage dollars to be spent and kept in the local economy
- Create a local currency or rewards card program that encourages money to be exchanged at locally owned businesses.
- Start a business, even a tiny one. Providing some niche service, teaching a class, making a product will make the local economy much more resilient and unique.
Local: The current state
There is already a movement occurring, Youngstown Cash Mob is an online community that picks a locally owned business every months and everyone in the group shops their on a specific day. This is a great way to get people acquainted with lesser known businesses and get the ‘buy local’ conversation going.
Commonwealth, Inc. is also doing a fantastic job of building a local food infrastructure. They run the North side farmer’s market on Saturdays and a weekday market downtown. They are currently constructing a kitchen incubator for food entrepreneurs to produce value added products.
Buy Local Campaign
All over Rhode Island there are bumper stickers that say “I ❤ My Farmer” (but the heart is a tomato). This is a constant reminder of local food, knowing your farmer becomes the cool thing to do. A guide book of locally owned businesses would be a good start, we could create a culture of buying locally to support our neighbors.
This is a dream of mine and would require a LOT of support, but would tremendously benefit locally owned businesses. Ithaca, NY has a system called Ithaca HOURS. Each HOUR is equivalent to $10 and is recommended for one hour of labor. The system has slowed recently because founder, Paul Glover, moved away from Ithaca. Since its founding in 1991, several million dollars of HOURS have been exchanged.
Youngstown has been recognized as a great place for entrepreneurs. We need to promote that and nurture entrepreneurs who take huge risks to improve the city. Support a local entrepreneur, give them feedback and advice, and help them when they fail.
Growing the local economy does not require large investment, government programs, or any magic. It starts will small changes in purchasing habits. Buy coffee at a locally owned store instead of a national change, buy locally grown food instead of food shipped from across the world. This is not a zero sum game. These dollars spent locally will build up a culture that will encourage more local spending and the dollars will continue to circulate in the local economy making it more resilient during tough times.