Local retailers don plaid to counter Black Friday
This coming Black Friday, you can skip the mad 5 a.m. shopping dash, sleep away the turkey coma and hit up locally owned, independent retailers during regular business hours. Oh, and wear plaid.That's the message of some buy-local business networks across New Hampshire that are envisioning a whole new brand of post-Thanksgiving shopping.They call it Plaid Friday. It's a riff on Black Friday, but besides a calendar date the two days share few similarities."On Plaid Friday, we're asking our business members and our customers to show off their local colors," said David Boynton, executive director of Seacoast Local, a network of independent Seacoast businesses. "We really want to promote an alternative to the big box stores and we want to encourage people to root their money locally by shifting their shopping to local and independent businesses."Black Friday, which is the day after Thanksgiving, has in recent years become the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season. On that day, big box retailers have traditionally opened their doors as early as 4 or 5 a.m. to offer steep discounts on wares from high-definition televisions to cashmere sweaters to kitchen mixers.The mania only grows each shopping season, and this year, some chains have decided to kick the shopping off even earlier. Best Buy, Target, Macy's and Kohl's have all announced that they will open up shop at midnight, when employees and shoppers are still digesting turkey and pumpkin pie.But some groups in New Hampshire hope the day after Thanksgiving will be the kickoff to a different sort of holiday shopping season.On Nov. 25, participating independent retailers in the Granite State are encouraging shoppers to don their plaid in support of local businesses."What could be a bigger contrast from Black Friday than plaid? Just the visual alone is fabulous," said Tracy Keating, owner of Life is Sweet Candy Store in Keene, who plans to use cocoa butter transfer sheets to make "plaid-icized" chocolates on the day.Her candy and cupcake shop is one of about 10 Plaid Friday "hub" stores in the Monadnock Region, all of which are members of Monadnock Buy Local, or MBL, a Keene-based network of local and independently owned businesses in 34 communities in southwestern New Hampshire. Among the hubs are bookstores, coffee shops and pet stores, which will all offer specials and photograph customers who come in wearing plaid.Seacoast Local is also participating in Plaid Friday, which is the kickoff to a bigger holiday campaign, called "Shift Your Shopping."That grassroots movement originated in Massachusetts two years ago as a way to encourage local spending during the holidays, and has since picked up steam nationally, thanks to collaborations this year with AMIBA -- American Independent Business Alliance -- and BALLE -- the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.Also on board with the "Shift Your Shopping" campaign is Belknap Independent Business Alliance, or BIBA, an AMIBA affiliate based in Laconia with 100 business members. And the state's newest such group -- Be Local Concord -- expects to participate next year.Economic impactThese "buy local" initiatives work by offering memberships both to businesses and consumers. Businesses pay a small annual fee, usually between $50 and $100, for a listing in a directory of locally owned, independent businesses. Once they're listed, many offer discounts or incentives to consumer members."What we found is that a lot of people are saying, 'I'm not signing up to get the discounts, I'm signing up to support local businesses'," saidMichelle Lineheart, who sits on the Be Local Concord committee and owns Just Be Boutique in downtown Concord.Boynton said feedback for "Shift Your Shopping" was positive last year, but he doesn't suffer from any grand delusions: He knows people will still shop at big box stores for the discounts that mom-and-pops are simply unable to offer.The campaign, he said, is more about educating consumers about the benefits of shopping locally, and encouraging them to do so when they can."When you spend money at a local independent, a lot more money stays in the local economy," said Randy Bullerwell, president of BIBA and owner of All My Life Jeweler in Laconia.Lineheart said that's because local businesses tend to spend their money in the community, buying local advertising and services."Really (the goal is) showing that it's about an experience or an economy where you know your local business owners and they're your neighbors," said Boynton. "When you buy from a local business you're not just supporting them, you're supporting their kids' football team or the local charities that they donate to."For Life is Sweet's Keating, it's not about pitting independents against big box stores. After all, she said, there are some things that you just can't buy locally."It's not saying never go (to big chains) -- that's impossible," said Keating. "It's not us versus them for me -- I think there's room for everybody."As it turns out, these buy local campaigns actually can and do have an impact. A study conducted last year by the Institute for Local Self Reliance of nearly 3,000 independent businesses nationwide found that those in areas with buy-local initiatives performed significantly better than those without.The study found that in 2010, independent businesses in communities with such initiatives made 5.6 percent gains over the previous year, compared to the 2.1 percent growth experienced by independents in regions without such campaigns.The picture was even brighter for retailers. Those in communities with the initiatives saw a 5.2 percent gain in holiday sales, compared to a gain of just 0.8 percent among retailers in regions without the local initiatives.While each of the state's four big "buy local" organizations is based in a city -- Portsmouth, Keene, Laconia and Concord -- they all have much wider, rural footprints. Seacoast Local, for example, serves 24 communities, even into southern Maine. That means there are a fair number of communities in New Hampshire that already can join a buy-local network.And for those communities without such a group, they're not really all that hard to start. Most are run by volunteers who already own independent businesses -- in other words, those who stand to gain the most from the initiatives. And the existing groups in the state and beyond are almost surprisingly willing to share information and ideas with one another."Seacoast Local is always there for us to answer questions," saidJen Risley, chair of MBL. "It's that network of feeling like you're supported in New Hampshire.""If we're all going for the same outcome, why not join forces instead of spinning our wheels?" said Lineheart. "Then we could have an actual statewide thing. Even though we're encouraging people to shop local, even if you shop within the state, (we're all) still benefiting."