Rebecca Cross: Support today’s patriots — our true independents!

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As we look forward to celebrating Independence Day on July 4th, our community should also be looking forward to celebrating National Independents Week July 1-7, 2014. This special week reminds us just how important our local independently owned businesses are to our downtown and our local economy.

Let’s look at “Three Reasons Main Street Independent Businesses are the Backbone of your Community (Independentwestand.org).”

The writer, Jef Buehler, is in charge of the Office of Main Street New Jersey and Improvement District Programs, similar to Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc.

He says, “To put it simply: Independent businesses have been and are the backbone of historic communities and downtowns, thereby preserving the buildings, character, culture, and fabric of the community.”

There are three main reasons why independent businesses are our backbone, according to Buehler. They are:

1) Independent Businesses are the trailblazers: Our “Indies” (independent business owners) are typically the first ones to go into a historic mixed-use commercial district, supplying rent to the property owner and a reason for the public to go to that district, and tax revenue to the local community. By running businesses in historic buildings, Indies give economic value to that property, enabling it to be maintained for both present and future generations.

2) They are part of the story: Independents bring authenticity to the community table. They may be quirky, crabby, creative and/or chaotic, but they’re real. Indies foster a unique vibe for the community they inhabit. They’re run by characters that add character to their place. These businesses, already invested in and committed to that place, are also the first to support local causes and events, giving of themselves while enriching the community at large.

3) Recycle. Re-use. Repeat. Local independent businesses cycle much of their income into the community where they’re located. They’re more likely to source locally and work together within their district. There’s plenty of research data on this, too.

For example, an analysis from the “Indie Impact Study Series in the Hudson Valley (New York, 2014)” is one in a long line of studies nationwide designed to gain an understanding of the economic impact of independent, locally-owned businesses. In every case:

“… the findings have been unequivocal: independents bring substantial benefits to their local economies when compared to their chain competitors. While chain stores and restaurants extract locally generated revenues from the community with each nightly bank transaction, independents are creating a virtuous cycle of local spending. The extra dollars in the local economy produce more jobs for residents, extra tax revenues for local governments, more investment in commercial and residential districts, and enhanced support for local nonprofits. In short, these businesses create better places.”

Then there are the stories — about the business owner in a small Kentucky community who paid his employees with $2 bills one payday. Those $2 bills were still found circulating around town months after the fact. Keeping money local longer is a crucial benefit that strengthens our communities.

Bryon Hickman, co-owner of Bryon’s Hotdog Stand on Poindexter Street with his wife Stacey, notes that as an independent business owner “you get to know and be part of the character of the town and bring to it what you know it will appreciate. To us it’s like having the opportunity to take care of our family, which the Main Street community has become.” And by running a successful business in the building where it’s located, Bryon’s has supported the upkeep and vitality of its historic building, as do the many other independent businesses in downtown Elizabeth City.

Independents are crucial to growing Elizabeth City’s economic, physical, social, and civic value. They are what makes a place be not just any place, and by doing so have either knowingly or unknowingly saved countless historic buildings. Moving forward we could say: Support our community while preserving historic buildings = Support independent businesses!

See you downtown!