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‘Unwrap Chicago’ promotes local holiday shopping

Backed by hundreds of locally-owned small business, Unwrap Chicago is urging Chicagoans to pledge to shift $100 of their holiday shopping to neighborhood businesses and has launched a blog featuring 50 businesses in 50 wards.

City Treasurer Stephanie Neely is hosting a press conference to kick off the campaign on Tuesday, November 20 at 10 a.m. on the 2nd floor of City Hall.

She’ll be joined by Suzanne Keers of Local First Chicago, the small business coalition that sponsors Unwrap Chicago, along with Omar Duque of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Ald. Harry Osterman, cosponsor of a resolution declaring Buy Local Week in Chicago starting Friday, November 23.

Boost city economy

If every family shifted $100 of their holiday shopping to local businesses, it would inject $25 million into the city’s economy, Keers said.

Local businesses recirculate 70 percent more of their revenues back into the local economy, purchasing local goods and services and supporting local charities at much higher rates, studies have shown.

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Local business – and Wal-Mart

At OnEarth, a student/writer from New York bemoans the depressingly identical malls dotting America and finds one bright spot — Chicago!

“On my trip I felt that Chicago, above any other city, had a particular and noticeable pride in its neighborhoods. Chicago’s most hip areas are filled with stores that are locally owned that sell local products to local customers. But the fact that independent stores have survived there, where they have failed in other cities, is no coincidence. It is due, in large part, to the presence of an organization called Local First Chicago.”

With Wal-Mart recently telling Chicago “We’re BAAAACK!!” it might be time to look again at how the city’s development policies favor big box development over local business (Newstips 9-3-06), and how Illinois leads the nation in subsidies to low-wage Wal-Mart (Newstips 6-5-07).

‘Buy Local First’ for the Holidays

Neighborhood business groups from Beverly to Rogers Park are holding special events, and independent businesses in 17 neighborhoods across the city will have special promotions and events to encourage shoppers to shift a portion of their holiday purchases to local retailers.

Mayor Daley and the City Council have declared December 3 through 9 “Buy Local First Week” to encourage residents to support local businesses with their holiday shopping.

In Beverly, stores along 99th and 103rd Streets will join in a Village Christmas Market offering shoppers gifts and sales – and free Christmas cookies – with holiday entertainment and free trolley rides from Friday, December 8 to Sunday, December 10 (call the Beverly Area Planning Association, 773-233-3100 for information).

The Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a Holiday Stroll on the evening of Friday, December 1, featuring festive food and spirits at restaurants and boutiques in the area; carolers, tree-lighting, horse-drawn sleigh rides and Santa Claus are scheduled for the group’s Winterfest on Sunday, December 10 starting at 2 p.m. (773-327-5123).

In Rogers Park, DevCorp North is offering $25 rebates to shoppers with $100 or more in receipts from at least three stores in the area (773-508-5885).

Special promotions at stores across the city area listed at

The holidays are a chance for consumers to support locally-owned businesses which bolster the local economy by purchasing goods and services locally and backing local charities at much higher rates than national chains, according to Local First Chicago, a citywide network of locally-owned, independent businesses. Local businesses preserve the culture and character of an area and help maintain walkable communities that are more environmentally sustainable, according to the group.

Alternatives to Big Box Development

Like governmental bodies across the country, Chicago heavily favors big businesses from out of town with development subsidies and other support, despite growing awareness of the contribution of mega-retailers to problems ranging from pollution and traffic congestion to stagnating wages and declining health coverage.

In fact, many locally-owned small businesses are more profitable and do far more to strengthen local economies, according to Michael Shuman, author of “The Small-Mart Revolution.” Where big businesses have the advantage is in access to financing and influence over public policy, he argues.

Shuman is one of two authors being sponsored by Local First Chicago in coming weeks to contribute to ongoing discussions on how to protect and preserve local business, including proposals to designate chain-free business districts.

Shuman favors free-market solutions to level the playing field; one of his ideas is creating local stock markets to help capitalize businesses excluded by their size from national exchanges. Author Stacy Mitchell has compiled “best practices” for local retailers, working with the Hometown Advantage project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. But she also promotes protective ordinances such as size cap policies.

Shuman will discuss “The Small-Mart Revolution” in a program at the Jefferson Tap, 235 N. Jefferson, on Monday, October 23 at 7 p.m.

Mitchell will discuss her new book, “The Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses,” at Women and Children First Bookstore, 5233 N. Clark, on Wednesday, November 8 at 7:30 p.m.

“Independents Week” for Local Business

A hundred locally-owned independent businesses are holding special sales and events to educate consumers about the importance of neighborhood small businesses as part of Local First Chicago’s “Independents Week,” July 4 through 11.

The week concludes with a screening of the new film, “Independent America: The Two-Lane Search for Mom and Pop.”

“So many people don’t understand that their neighborhood stores will disappear” under pressure from national chains, said Local First Chicago vice president Casey Rutledge. “And it’s their daily shopping decisions that make the difference.”

Small businesses give neighborhoods their character, Rutledge said. “People say, Armitage is so cute and charming. Okay, but pretty soon it’s going to be another mall.”

Locally-owned businesses circulate 70 percent more dollars (per square foot) than chain stores, said Ellen Shepherd of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce. They hire local staff and service providers and give to local schools and charities – and they spend their profits locally, she said.

According to Local First Chicago, nonprofits receive an average of 350 percent more in donations from local business owners than from businesses with outside ownership.

Chains Not Cheaper

It’s a “myth” that chains are always cheaper, said Rutledge, owner of Multiple Choices, a home accessory store in Lincoln Park. “It absolutely isn’t true. There are lots to things where I’m competitive or lower priced. And you do get better service.”

“It’s tied to so many things,” she added. “With the price of oil going up people are saying, what can I do. One thing you can do is shop locally.”

Local First Chicago has grown quickly and now includes businesses in neighborhoods from the North Side to Beverly and Garfield Park.

“It gives me a voice and a vocabulary to help educate other consumers,” said Rutledge. She enjoys “the light bulb moment” when people get the concept.

“Independent America” filmmakers Hanson Hosein and Heather Hughes traveled across America without using interstates or chains, interviewing people along the way. They’ll discuss their film at Local First Chicago’s showing, Tuesday, July 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division.

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