Bringing back the local dollar


Slade Kemmet/The Daily Iowan
A customer walks out of Textiles Inc. after making a purchase Wednesday. Ritu Jain, the owner of the store, has had the business for 18 years, and she encourages people to shop locally.
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Independently owned shops across the nation are feeling the effects of the stagnant economy. But national and local initiatives are trying to keep Iowa City businesses strong.

The 3/50 Project, a nationwide initiative to generate revenue in communities, is calling on Americans to pick three of their favorite independent local businesses and spend at least $50 every month at each store for a year. According to the project’s website , it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue for U.S. communities.

Iowa City business owner Ritu Jain said she thinks the initiative has a lot of benefits.

“It makes people more aware of how easy it is to support local business and how important we are to the community,” said Jain, the owner of Textiles Inc., 109 S. Dubuque St.

The 3/50 project hasn’t officially been instituted in Iowa City, but Jain said she and a group of local retailers are discussing ways to promote it throughout the area.

Iowa City City Councilor Connie Champion said she tries to do most of her shopping locally.

“I think it is very important and helpful to support local shops because the money stays in the community,” she said. “The reasons to do it are pretty straightforward.”

Campaigns similar to 3/50 are spreading throughout the state. Cedar Rapids has adopted the initiative and also promotes “Buy in Linn,” which encourages businesses to shift 5 percent of their out-of-area spending to local vendors. Those can include national chains on community property that pay local property taxes. The program has shifted more than $1 million back into the community since last spring.

Johnson County has an identical program, Buy Here, which the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce adopted in April 2007. More than 175 businesses have pledged to follow the plan, putting nearly $3 million back into Johnson County. Iowa Department of Revenue numbers show that consumers bought nearly $1.7 billion worth of products in Johnson County in fiscal 2008.

Des Moines’ “Buy into the Circle” has gained the local economy at least $66 million.

“We want to promote community and economic development as much as we can,” said Kelly McCann, the director of communications for the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce. “Local shops help increase jobs and strengthen business in the community.”

Though officials insist on shopping in local shops to support the area economy, some customers, such as Emma Borges-Scott, shop in local stores for other reasons.

She likes the availability of secondhand clothing at local stores such as White Rabbit, 109 S. Linn St.

“It is my consumer decision because it is less harmful to the environment,” said the University of Iowa graduate student. “You’re using something other people aren’t using so nothing goes wasted.”

Sandra Navalesi, the owner of Dulcinéa, 2 S. Dubuque St., said people should shop at places such as her boutique because of the ambiance.

“The calm atmosphere and the attentive customer service is something you don’t get in stores at the mall,” Navalesi said. “Plus the selection is normally more condensed, so it’s not as overwhelming.”

Jain said it is important to keep revenue in downtown, where most of the independent shops such as hers are, because it is what “makes” Iowa City.

The 45-year-old said she’s been shopping downtown, in local stores, her whole life. When she was growing up, she went downtown to buy comic books, and now she shops there for other items, too.

“The mix of restaurants, shops and entertainment is amazing,” she said. “I can’t imagine what the city would be like without its downtown.”

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