Somerville Local First


10% Shift

The 10% Shift Campaign is a movement to strengthen local economies, especially in the wake of a national financial crisis. We aim to do this through convincing individuals, businesses and organizations to shift 10% of their spending from non-local businesses to Local Independents – private, locally owned businesses in Somerville. Based on the findings from the Grand Rapids study by Civic Economics, it is clear that even just this 10% shift from non-local to local spending will have a profound impact on the local Somerville economy because of the multiplier effect – a larger share of your dollars will stay in the region and work to strengthen Somerville and the surrounding communities.

What exactly are all the benefits of the 10% Shift?

–       Expanded Job Creation: Creating new jobs and decreasing unemployment.

–       Economic Growth: Generating billions of dollars of increased local economic activity.

–       Entrepreneurial Ventures: Inspiring the formation of new independent ventures.

–       Protected Environment: Decreasing thousands of tons of greenhouse emissions caused by trans-regional and transnational transportation of goods.

–       Enhanced Communities: Revitalizing communities that have suffered from non-local spending.

The best part? We can help the local economy grow simply by shifting, not increasing, our spending, and without the burden of extra taxes.

Local is a Two-Way Street

Shopping locally can have its benefits!

A friend of mine approached me the other day and asked, “‘I’ve been getting into biking lately, and I want to support my local bike shop. But when I check prices online, it’s usually cheaper. Why should I pay the higher prices just to shop local?”

I took this as a teaching moment and talked to him about how spending his money locally is better for the economy and how price shouldn’t be the only determining factor. A local bike shop could add a lot of value to his shopping experience in ways an online retailer could not. But something concerned me about his situation. What if his particular local bike shop wasn’t giving him a reason to shop locally?

We often put the success of the local movement on the customer. We use slogans like “Shift Your Shopping” and “Buy Local”. But I believe the small, local business is just as responsible for the success of the local movement and the local economy as the customer.

The big online retailers have two main advantages over the small local business: Price and Convenience. They know this and do whatever they can to promote it. The lure of shopping during your lunch hour without leaving your desk, or taking advantage of a special on-line only sale can be very seductive. In tough economic times, these are compelling features. But this doesn’t mean that the small, local business can’t compete.

Make It Personal:

The big retailers, whether online or a physical location, aren’t able to foster personal relationships with their customers like a local business can. Getting personal service from a national retailer is often rare for a variety of reasons, and sadly, it’s something many of us have gotten used to in exchange for low prices.People prefer to buy from people they like and can relate to. The local store can take advantage of this by providing personal service, before, during and after the sale. Don’t sell people stuff, help them buy it. Listen to what the customer’s needs are and find solutions that are unique to them. Never miss an opportunity to communicate with them. Social media like Facebook and Twitter can help as well as email newsletters and blogs. Let them know when you have something you think they would like. Make the customer feel like you are their personal store.


Chances are that you started your business because you are extremely passionate about it. You wouldn’t open a camera store, for example, and not love cameras and photography. Use that passion and knowledge to be the local, go-to expert for your customers. Use social media, your website or blog to post useful tips and information. A camera store could host free photography classes or give out a beginner’s guide to taking good pictures with every new camera purchase. Customers who respect your knowledge will be much more likely to return when they need advice and will trust your judgement on future purchases. Plus, people will enjoy their purchase more if they know how to get the most out of it. You already have all this knowledge, so put it to good use.

Offer Items Not Available at the Big Retailers:

The big retailers are able to offer low prices because they purchase in volume. As a result, they don’t carry some items because the supplier can’t produce the volume they demand. This provides you an opportunity to carry those items that a big retailer can’t or won’t carry. Usually items that are “green”, natural, organic, hand-made, or locally, independently produced or manufactured, are created on a small scale and are not attractive to the big retailers. Seek out those hard-to-find unique products and be their local source. Not only will you be helping other local companies, but it could help you carve a unique niche in the marketplace.

Just telling people to “shop local” isn’t enough. Local businesses need to do their part, too. It is too easy for customers to be lured into the seduction of low prices and convenience shopping. As local businesses, we need to find ways to add value to the goods and services we provide in ways that big national retailers can’t. Whether it’s through developing personal relationships with your customers, providing help and information, or just offering what the big guys can’t, we need to give customers a reason to “buy local”.

Originally posted on...February 21st, 2012

SLF in 2010 ~ The Local Movement Approaches The Tipping Point

This is the 3rd installment of a week-long blog retrospective at the year that was for SLF & the Local Movement in 2010, and a glimpse into what 2011 may hold.  Please add feel free to comment with your thoughts throughout the week. If you missed the previous posts, here’s Part I and Part II

The Tipping Point Grows Closer

Sometimes, reading the right book at the right time can change your life forever.  This has happened twice for me in my life.  The first instance is a story for another day (Ishmael by Daniel Quinn if you’re wondering), but it’s the second book that will lead off today’s post.

From the very beginning of the strategic planning behind SLF, the insight of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell has been ingrained.  After reading it, it seemed clear to me what Local needed to do.

Up to now, we've focused on Early Adopters and Innovators...

Up to now, we've focused on Early Adopters and Innovators...

We needed to create both a deep rooted organization and buzz that reached above the noise of our society, and we needed to do it in a metropolitan area.  To accomplish such seemingly impossible goals, we needed to create an interwoven community of Innovators, Early Adopters and influencers.  We needed to engage  and capture the thought leaders of Greater Boston (Independent Media, leaders in Art/Fashion/Music, engaged and active citizens and so on).  And when we did, they would carry our message, and help us fundamentally (and necessarily) shift our culture.

And I think we’re just about there.

Here are some of the local, regional and national highlights that make me think so:

Shift Happens

Shift is Happening Nation-wide

Shift is Happening Nation-wide

Local First Arizona boasts the largest membership in the country, at over 2,000 local and independent businesses. They are also known for their innovations and advancement of local procurement, research and technology.  This year, LFA launched Shift Arizona.  A 10% Shift inspired campaign that is now active and engaged across the state of Arizona.

And this further demonstrates, as we’ve adopted strategies from others  and they us, that the interconnected world in which we now live will accelerate the local tipping point.  While severely under-resourced, we in the local movement are collaborative and connected.  This is a core strength that makes this movement different….and far more powerful.

Learn more about Shift Arizona here

Local Food & The Boston Local Food Festival

30,000+ attendees shows how Local Food in on our minds

30,000+ attendees shows how Local Food in on our minds

I’ve long said that the Local Food community is one of, if not the, most important early drivers of Localization.  This year, we saw a huge spike in national demand for locally produced foods, which are more environmentally sustainable and support the effort to revitalize our local agricultural economy.

The high point in this community this year, for me, was The Boston Local Food Festival.  We know a bit about first year endeavors at SLF, and the results of the festival were so astounding that they are still being felt today.

Over 30,000 people came to the festival and experienced a vast array of vendors and sponsors…and every one of them was locally owned, independent and based in New England.

There is a belief by many that, to achieve significant change, compromise must be made to include organizations that have a much higher relative amount of resources.  The Boston Local Food Festival showed that we CAN scale our efforts, while maintaining the important (an in my mind absolutely critical) authenticity of working with and promoting only those organizations who fit our profile:  Locally Owned and Independent.

Huzzah for the SBN Local Food Team (left->right):  Fan Watkinson, Laury Hammel, Nicola Williams

Huzzah for the SBN Local Food Team (left->right): Fan Watkinson, Laury Hammel, Nicola Williams

More on this tomorrow…

Collaboration in New England

One of my mentors, and the man I lovingly call “The Godfather of the Local Movement”, Laury Hammel of SBN Boston likes to remind people that, if taken as a whole, the six New England states would represent the 21st largest U.S. State (about the size of Michigan).  Over the past year, relationships between our sister New England networks have grown and strengthened.

The New England Local Business Forum has collaborated on The 10% Shift among other initiatives.   Watching the organizations grow on a shoestring budget and massive volunteer-ism has been inspiring.  In addition, maturing and more established networks and network leaders mentored and supported our brothers and sisters from across the region, resulting in more leaders stepping up and doing the same.  We added 3 new members to the Steering Committee at our last gathering.

But a small sampling of the thinking and collaboration NEBLF fosters

But a small sampling of the thinking and collaboration NEBLF fosters

If we are to truly actualize our mission, it will be because of social entrepreneurs willing to dedicate their lives to changing the world.  And in New England, I think those leaders are emerging.

From the California Bay to the New Hampshire Mountains

And finally, if we want to talk about approaching a Tipping Point, we have to talk about Plaid Friday.

Never have I seen the movement promote anything as ‘sticky’ (back to Gladwell again).  And if you followed the story, we took the lead of our colleagues in Oakland and the East Bay, who created the concept last year.  Once again, good ideas are spreading, and its happening fast: a demonstration of the interconnected nature of our movement.

I have been doing some behind the scenes work for this idea next year…and the results could be dramatic.  I mean, in Somerville alone, we generated over 500,000 (!!!) impressions through our Facebook page during our SHIFT YOUR SHOPPING campaign.

And yet, all of this work is happening on the tiniest of budgets against some of the most well resourced marketing and promotion our world has ever seen….and I think we’re starting to win.

Tomorrow, I’ll go through what I perceive as our greatest challenges as a movement in 2011….and what we plan to do to address them.

Originally posted on...December 29th, 2010

Shopping locally, joyfully and mindfully

(Michael Kanter is really one of my favorite people, though an outside observer watching one of our conversations, riddled with lovingly acerbic New England wit and mocking, might find that hard to believe.  Michael is a leader, a business owner and one of the key people in New England when it comes to authenticity of the movement.  I’m glad to have him as a partner in this work, and was inspired by reading his thoughtful message here.  I hope you will be as well.  ~ Joe, SLF)

by Michael Kanter

We all have heard that this time of year is often critical for the success of many businesses. But why should anyone care? Those businesses made their own decisions to open their doors, why should I worry myself about their success? And what can my purchases do to help those businesses? Besides, I need to watch my own finances carefully especially in this economy. And, what difference is it if they stay in business or not? All of these are actually and seriously important questions.

First I want to make the distinction of what businesses I believe deserve your greatest support. Full disclosure, I am the co-owner, with my wife Elizabeth Stagl, of Cambridge Naturals which we started and have owned for 37 years. That noted, I assume that if you are reading this you are likely at least aware of and perhaps a supporter of the “local movement” and in particular that you are aware of the benefits to your community of spending your dollars at locally owned and independent businesses. So, of course, I am suggesting that this season, like all seasons, you mindfully and intentionally make your gift purchase at such businesses.

Michael has also been instrumental in helping Cambridge Local First and Somerville Local First develop a strong working relationship

As the news of a very challenging economy continues to circulate many of us have gotten very nervous about our savings, our jobs, our homes and our communities. And many of us worry about our friends and loved ones for the same reasons. The daily papers (what’s left of them, anyway), the radio and tv news, internet updates, etc., etc. rarely feature anything positive that is happening in the world or even our communities. Quite the contrary; open up or turn on any of those sources and it seems to be all bad news all the time.

I am not here to argue that there is not enough ugly and destructive “stuff” happening. I am suggesting, however, that the local movement in all its ramifications is one of the very brightest and most optimistic movements to “come down the pike”. Furthermore, I suggest that joyfully supporting (read: shopping at) your locally owned and independent businesses is one of the ways you can directly participate in this positive movement for social change.

Here’s why.

Most of us who have opened such businesses have done so with the intention of offering the community products and services that are unique and we are thrilled to be part of the fabric of our towns and regions. A mere fraction of us have set out to “get rich” (and of those few that did, very few succeed).

Further, few entrepreneurs have thoughts or plans of attempting to build our businesses in ways that would take us out of our communities such as franchising or other growth concepts that would make us less active and direct participants in our place.

In fact, in my long retail experience in this area, I am really impressed with the activism and involvement of locally owned and independent business owners and managers in supporting non-profits and in truly being honorable members of the communities where we work and often live.

As well, the existence of unique locally owned and independent businesses is part of what makes our towns attractive to residents and visitors alike. And, yes let’s remember those studies that show that so many more dollars that are spent at independent community businesses have the power of staying in the area and strengthening our communities.

Most if not all of us have people we want to buy gifts for at this time of year and most if not all of us have limits to our budgets. Just like our local and state and national governments need to be mindful of spending we all wish to be mindful of not going beyond our “comfort levels” or beyond our budgets.

My suggestion is this: It is to all our benefit if we consciously and very intentionally purchase such gifts from businesses that are in our communities because they have chosen to be there for the good of the community…as well as to make a honest living.

Let’s also be very clear about what is at stake. Your community businesses simply can not survive without your support. Though many are thriving, many are facing the same challenges that individuals and local governments are. Some are truly hurting. Your active support is vital for their financial survival and as importantly for the morale of the owners and staff alike.

Shifting your Shopping for the Holidays gives multiple gifts

Your thoughtful holiday purchases have much more power than you may realize.  Buy joyfully!  By making those purchases, you are giving a real gift to those businesses while helping to build a strong local economy.

Some may call this “win, win”…I call it community, community.

Originally posted on...December 10th, 2010

The Relaunch of the Somerville Local First Website – A resource to find Locally Owned and Independent Businesses in Somerville

Welcome to the new SLF website!  We’re excited to completely relaunch our web presence in an effort to better promote the local movement and our members. At the same time, we hope to engage in meaningful dialogue with you, our fellow community members.

This site is intended to serve as a community resource: a place for learning and discussion.  To help you continue to Shift your Shopping to local and independent businesses, we are incorporating a number of new features:

  • The SLF Blog – Our new blog based site will feature wide ranging contributions every week from many different sources, including:
    • SLF Staff, Interns and Board of Directors
    • SLF Members – entrepreneurs, artists and nonprofit directors
    • Community Bloggers – community members who are passionate about ‘local’ and want to share their Somerville stories
    • National Experts – people around the country who are working to build strong local living economies
    • Multimedia galore!  – We’ll be posting photos, reviews, videos and more to the site in the coming months.  We hope these tools will continue to build the awareness and behavior change we need to take our movement to the next level.
    • Campaign and Event pages – We’ll have living pages dedicated to the link“>Shift your Shopping, link“>Harvest Fest and link“>JOIN SLF – We now have membership categories for businesses, artists, nonprofits and community members.  Each community can easily join our growing network and become part of the movement to build and sustain our local economy in Somerville.

This is just the first step to developing a community resource for local economies like no other.  We want to know what you think…in fact, one of the main reasons why we chose this format was to create and foster dialogue.  So if there’s something you’d like to see, something you like (or don’t like), please let us know.

Stay tuned this week for daily blog posts, including the beginning of a video series on SLF developed by Street Attack. We will also be hearing from our first Community Bloggers and providing more details on our Shift & Save coupons and mobile applications!

Shift Happens


Originally posted on...July 19th, 2010

The 10% Shift: Rethinking “Local”

The concept of “local” is not so unfamiliar, especially in the realm of food. In recent years, famers’ markets have gained tremendous popularity (although by no means do the majority of Americans shop there) and the local food movement has been covered by all sorts of media. Michael Pollan’s 2006 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma discussed the merits of eating food that has been grown and prepared locally. His book generated a huge amount of support and controversy. Now considered a pivotal piece of literature on the food industry, it was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by The New York Times.

Yet only more recently are Americans starting to discover the multiple meanings and applications of the concept of “local.” In March 2008, Somerville Local First was founded to promote “local” in the gastronomic sense, but also in the economic sense – to spread the message that patronizing local businesses is not only good for them, but helps keep economic activity within the community. The New England Local Business Forum (NELBF) was formed in the fall of 2008 and quickly adopted the 10% Shift as a key campaign. It had become clear that the idea of shifting a higher percentage of one’s spending to Local Independent businesses (privately held and locally operated) would actually translate into new jobs, new economic activity, and stronger local communities. Studies have proved it and experts have agreed with it time and time again.

The 10% Shift campaign is unique because it is sustainable and all-inclusive; it is not a temporary strategy that will boost the economy in the short-term and then leave it to flawed practices and institutions a few months or years later. It is also a solution to an economic problem that carries no political agenda or causes partisan division. It is a lifestyle change that can be practiced, and practiced easily, by virtually everyone at least in some degree.

10% Shift is not seeking to just make a difference for one segment of the country, one ethnicity, or one region – it will help all Americans. Shift today.

Originally posted on...July 18th, 2010

Moving our Money in Somerville

(This article was originally published on The Huffington Post)

Across the nation, local and independent businesses are organizing. The “local movement” is experiencing a boom, BusinessWeek recently observed. In 2006, about 40 communities had ‘buy local’ organizations. That number now tops 130. These Local First Networks and Independent Business Alliances are independent community-based nonprofit organizations, with a mission and vision of a sustainable and thriving local economy. More than 30,000 independent business owners are now leading this movement, together, and that number grows by the day. Somerville Local First in Somerville, Massachusetts, one of the nations most densely populated communities, on the border of Boston and Cambridge, is one of these networks, and we’ve seen our message embraced in and around our community over our first two years.

But this rapid growth is based on more than just a feel-good mentality. An emerging body of economic research shows that doing business with local independents is the fastest way to restart and reshape our economy. Civic Economics, a leading research firm, published the LocalWorks study, commissioned by LocalFirst in Grand Rapids, MI. That study revealed that a 10% Shift from non-local to local purchasing would provide significant and fast economic paybacks. If the 600,000 people in the Grand Rapids metro area shifted 10%, they would:

  1. Create 1,600 new jobs, reducing unemployment by .5%
  2. Create53 million in new wages
  3. Create137 million in new economic activity for the region

The study results have since been replicated in New Orleans, and spawned the 10% Shift campaign in New England, and now in more than 10 US States. In Somerville, everything we do in community education and messaging relates back to this achievable and reasonable goal: Shift 10% of whatever you’re now spending to Local Independents and we can reshape our local economy.

And now, Somerville Local First has turned our attention to the financial sector. Locally owned banks and community based credit unions have been shown to provide a significantly higher level of responsiveness, service and, most importantly, lending to our community. While the largest 20 banks control 57% of the total deposits in the United States, they do only 28% of the small business lending. Compare that with small- and medium-sized banks, who control only 25% of the deposits but dispense 54% of the dollars loaned to small businesses.

Based on all of this, we’ve decided to launch a Move Your Money campaign, asking all sectors of our community to move their money out of the banks that are too big to succeed, and put it into the financial institutions that are truly rooted in our community.

Stacy Mitchell, a leading researcher and author in the local movement and an expert on community banking, says “Moving your Money is one of the most important things that you can do to promote sustainable local economies. Local businesses depend heavily on small, local financial institutions for loans, as these organizations do the majority of lending to small businesses, local nonprofits and entrepreneurs. By moving your deposits to a local financial institution, you’re helping to build and reinvest in your own local economy.”

We’re confident that this hyper-local campaign will succeed. We’re using all the tools at our disposal, avenues both proven and innovative. From printing flyers and financial learning sessions to social media campaigns and electronic surveys that provide near-instant feedback to our community partners, we’re leaving no stone unturned. We will also, as we always do, keep our message 100% positive. Sure, we’ll make comparisons to illustrate the differences between Local and Non-Local banks, but we’ll leave the vitriol to someone else. This isn’t about revenge against big banks; it’s about revealing the overwhelming strengths of the local financial institutions already in our midst. In our community, it’s simply accepted that Bank of America and the other Too Big to Fail banks don’t have our communities’ best interests at heart.

Individuals and organizations in Somerville, Boston, and beyond, are recognizing the added value that local businesses deliver to our communities, and are choosing to buy local first. Our Move Your Money campaign is centered on changing behavior, raising awareness, and continuing to plant the seeds of change. And, as we’ve witnessed through our work thus far in the community, we predict that people will begin to proselytize their friends and neighbors, and the movement to support local financial institutions will to spread virally. As campaigns like this one take off and their success becomes apparent, more and more communities will take up the buy local banner. In fact, just this week in New England’s 2nd largest city, Worcester Local First announced their Move Your Money Campaign.

The energy surrounding movements like Move Your Money, Slow Food, and The 10% Shift is encouraging and should give us all hope. If we’ve learned anything from the financial meltdown, it is that we must start thinking much more carefully about how we choose to exercise our economic influence. When we choose local as customers and consumers, we take back ownership of our community. The local movement is growing, and it’s reaching across industries and sectors like food and finance. In Somerville, we feel that the movement to reclaim our local economies is what’s truly Too Big to Fail.

Originally posted on...July 18th, 2010

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