Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Challenge Begins

We started the Jax Cash Mob (www.facebook.com/JaxCashMob) in April of 2012 as a way to promote the benefits of shopping locally.  Locally owned small businesses generate a premium in enhanced economic impact to our community and tax base over national chains.  A ‘cash mob’ is a type of shop local flash mob where a group of people will show up at a local business en masse and each spend between $10-20 at that business.  Generally, the group will then reconvene at a local restaurant within walking distance for lunch, drinks and socializing.  Cash mobs are really just fun ways to show your support for local business owners while meeting some fantastic, like minded people.  I read about the cash mob concept in Inc Magazine started by Andrew Samtoy and thought Jacksonville small business owners needed an infusion of the kind of enthusiasm generated by cash mobs. 

Local small businesses greatly contribute to the sense of place in our unique In Town and Downtown neighborhoods.  The type of places where we shop, eat and entertain ourselves make up what we consider our ‘home’.  There is a behavorial theory in urban planning circles, coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, around the notion of ‘third places’.  A ‘third place’ is somewhere where people can regularly go oustide of their home or work to relax, commune with friends, neighbors and just whoever shows up.  These informal meeting places define how we interact and connect with our community.  The locally owned coffee shop, barber shop, general store or restaurant/pub acts as the epicenter of our community’s third place.  I firmly believe that Jacksonville is ‘our’ business in that it’s up to all of us to make it a place worth calling home. 

I wanted to explore ways to better understand the challenges and opportunities locally owned small businesses face in attracting customers.  Even though I support locally owned businesses and promote the benefits of doing so, I began to realize what a significant portion of monthly purchases I make that are not sourced from locally owned businesses.  I was inspired by a few unique experiments from people that I have connected with in Jacksonville.  My friends Julie Watkins and Keith Marks challenge people to give up eating meat for the month of March (www.facebook.com/nomeatmarch) and another friend Carmen Godwin gave up her car for an entire year and traversed the city in alternative forms of transportation like walking, biking, public transportation, etc (http://enginesoff.wordpress.com/).  So, with this in mind I have created my own experiment called Local February.  For the entire month of February I will only purchase items from locally owned businesses.  Thank you for following along.