—by Piyali Nath Dalal, HPC Member
On November 11, 2006, I attended an evening with Stacy Mitchell, where she discussed the importance of shopping at locally owned businesses. Mitchell, a Macalester alum, is currently on a book tour promoting her new book, Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses, in which she outlines the social and economic impact of bringing big retailers into communities.
Mitchell is an excellent speaker and can articulate complicated issues well. She shared the struggles that locally owned businesses face when big box retailers move into communities and strip their customer base. Mitchell also explained the fascinating efforts of citizens throughout the country who are working to stop big box retailers from taking over their local economies. She also challenged the audience to not just view WalMart as the only evil institution in the big box landscape but also to see that even our local favorite, Target, is a culprit when it comes to tax abatement, unfair labor practices, and more.
Stacy Mitchell works for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), a nonprofit with offices in Minneapolis and Washington, DC. The ILSR, along with the Metro Independent Business Alliance, a coalition of locally owned businesses in the metro area, are finding ways to create a better landscape for independent businesses through public awareness campaigns and policy initiatives.
For my final project for my master's degree in public policy at the University of Minnesota, I have spent the last few months working on a Pizza Project—a public awareness campaign that demonstrates that no matter where you live in the Twin Cities, you can have a locally owned pizza place deliver to your home. We developed a comprehensive list of pizza places as well as a map outlining our findings, and we had a public celebration at Snap Pizza in Northeast Minneapolis in late October 2006. Our findings can be found on the Metro Independent Business Alliance Web site (www.metroiba.org).
In addition to learning more about the economic and social impact of big box retailers, Stacy Mitchell made me think about how to put my values into practice when I make decisions as a consumer. As a member of the co-op, I feel that my husband and I are already making significant efforts to support local farmers as well as the organic food movement. I am, however, always trying to find more ways to promote locally owned businesses and encourage you to do the following, especially as we begin a new year.
- In addition to supporting Hampden Park Co-op, consider visiting the other independent businesses along Raymond Avenue, Como Avenue, and throughout St. Anthony Park.
- Make purchases at locally owned businesses. Gift cards to the co-op and other locally owned businesses make wonderful presents. Also support neighborhood artists and visit craft fairs throughout the Twin Cities.
- Check out the Metro Independent Business Alliance Web site (www.metroiba.org) and find out more ways to support your local and regional economy.
[Piyali Nath Dalal is a proud member of Hampden Park Co-op and a resident of Northeast Minneapolis. She is finishing her public policy degree at the Humphrey Institute, and she and her husband, Justin Felicetta, are expecting their first child in early 2007.]