Live Local, Live Small: The Asheville Grown Business Alliances offers an archetype for a buy-local movement
I was strolling down a street in Asheville this summer when a very attractive young woman with a big smile greeted me. “What are you doing here?” I asked in confusion. It was Jess Reedy, owner of Pineapple Studios on Front Street—a woman I spend six days a week within 100 feet of, yet whom I never see. Now, we were both standing on the same sunny street in Asheville. My brain was shutting down from confusion. This was a meeting we should be having on Front Street.
We chatted in the sunshine for close to an hour about our businesses: her yoga and pottery studio, my bookstore. I was so excited when she moved into the space and intrigued by the combination of yoga and pottery, but we hadn’t really had a chance to talk. As small business owners, every time we saw each other it was as were each hurrying to our next responsibility.
Jess Reedy is petite, brunette and remarkably focused. As we chatted about the last year, comparing notes on the triumph and the hurdles, I asked about the paint-your-own pottery and yoga combination. Reedy explained that she had wanted both from the beginning and bring in similar but different demographics. Her savvy and acumen were impressive, but it still didn’t answer the question: Why were we each in Asheville? And why didn’t we talk to each other at home?
Reedy was in town for a friend’s wedding, and I was there to see The Montford Park Players’ production of “The Taming of the Shrew” for a book I am writing about NC outdoor dramas. In that one hour on the street, we learned more about each other than we had in a year, working on the same block. I silently blessed the universe for making our paths cross and headed on to start interviews with the artistic team behind the Montford Park Players.
I admit the trip to Asheville was motived by several factors. An unexpected one slapped me in the face right before I ran into Jess. I saw a sticker that read, “Love Asheville. Put your $ where your heart is. Go local”
It really wasn’t a surprise that Asheville of all places had a well-organized buy local campaign—the Asheville Grown Business Alliance. I bought a sticker, which the gentlemen told me had been printed around the corner.
Obviously, as the Live Local columnist, I am already on board with the theories and practices of the buy-local movement and had, of course, scheduled a stay at a bed and breakfast rather than a chain hotel. In this case it was the Chestnut Street Inn. One of the side benefits of traveling around the state for the outdoor-dramas book over the summer was I had an opportunity to stay in a variety of bed and breakfasts to see how they are set up and the different ways they operate.
A couple of years ago in the Live Local column, I covered the experience of filing for a bed-and-breakfast license in Wilmington. One of my long-term (very long-term) plans is to open a literary-themed B&B. I really was surprised at the breadth of services and policies at bed and breakfasts across the state. Chestnut Street Inn seemed to be a larger and more specific operation, with actual staff in addition to the owners.
During the tour of the downstairs (I had a ground-floor room), I was told repeatedly that there were bottle openers and corkscrews in both my room and common areas, and asked not to try to pry bottle caps off on the mantle pieces! A shudder ran down my spine at the thought that some guests could be so cavalier and downright awful.
Would that happen to my beloved house when we opened? I thought.
Really, it shouldn’t surprise me: After almost a decade in retail, public bad behavior becomes de riguer. But harming the house is a different story altogether. The relationship between a person and their historic home is a sacred trust, and a relationship that deepens with years.
Anyhow, the Asheville Grown Business Alliance has built a remarkable organization. They have an annual “Go Local” card that is purchased for $10 by individuals to use at participating local businesses. Of that $10, $5 goes to the Asheville Grown Business Alliance, and $5 is donated to the public schools. The Mountain Express (the encore of Asheville) prints the annual guide for participating businesses. It is free for businesses to participate and list their buy local offers, promotions and discounts in the guide. These things always work if a business wants to place a larger ad in the guide to support it—that comes at a fee.
How successful has it been? Their website claims: “The 2013 card had over 400 businesses participating. We sold approximately 2,000 cards and distributed 40,000 directories and raised over $20,000 for our public schools.”
Wow! Just think about that for a second.
We have been discussing the future of our public school system in this state and in our municipality. I know of one Wilmington neighborhood that has adopted an elementary school because the statistics of poverty related to the students there are so shocking that the neighborhood can’t not try to help. The money raised from the Asheville Go Local card is an example of the community saying that children (our future) are a priority and rather than waiting for nebulous help on high, the community will put them first.
If you have the time, browse www.Ashevillegrown.com. You can search for local businesses based on geographic region in Buncombe County or through a variety of certifications, including green building, living wage or local food. The category search includes a “Bank Local” flier, as well as “Go Out Local.”
Really, I am impressed. As far as creating a truly usable, successful and locally focused marketing campaign, this is one to the best I have ever seen. It obviously has really great leadership and vision, but without community buy-in, it wouldn’t work.
We have our own Live Local resource page on the encore website, and we certainly encourage you to use it for finding local businesses and to improve it by adding to it. If we the community do not use it, than it ceases to be effective.
In the mean time, I am continuing to salivate over Asheville’s Go Local card and marvel at their partnership with the public schools. More importantly, I am making a point of getting out and talking to my neighbors and colleagues more because that is one of the keys of what makes the live local movement successful: the human face time. You can’t fake it or replace it.