With the Phoenix Project officially opening up its $2 million dollar doors this Tuesday it’s a great time to show your support for small town businesses by getting out and buying something in downtown Kent. I’m not an anti-Gap-Banana Republic-Express-Abercrombie and Fitch retail-disestablishmentarianist but these days walking into those shops is like being stuck in the Groundhog Day movie or touring a wax museum. Something is just not quite right. It’s a re-enactment of a shopping experience. If you’re looking for something that is less mass produced, less homogenized and less contrived check out the new homegrown shops in downtown Kent.
Don’t get me wrong the multi-national chain stores have had very sucessful retail formula’s that made them staples in malls for decades but they seem a bit dated, tired and out of step with where consumers are at today. I guess that’s because where consumers are at isn’t the malls anymore. Face it we can’t live on staples alone and the recirculated air of malls with their Cookie Company cutter sameness has led to a consumer push back to discover something with a little more homegrown flavor.
In the 1980’s and 90’s the mall anthem could have been U2’s Even Better Than The Real Thing but 20 years later even Bono is left singing about the Vertigo that the malls have left us with. Downtown Kent isn’t your Aunt Annie’s shopping experience so don’t go looking for an Orange Julius to choke down your food court specials in Kent. Kent’s got just the right homegrown flavor to cure what ails you and will bring you back for more.
From Taco Tonto’s to Ray’s Place Kent substitutes local flavor and large portions instead of glossy menus and slick marketing schemes. If you want birthday songs and balloons swing by Applebees in nearby Stow or Brimfield but if you’re looking for surprising specials of the day get into downtown Kent.
I didn’t mean to ramble on like Billy Mays but I get amped up about what Kent has to offer — so please forgive the shameless info-mercial. The motivation for this post was really to preach the gospel of economic localism. Buy Local is an appeal to community values as well as economic self-interest. It’s a call to support locally owned businesses that don’t outsource, don’t pack up their bags and leave on a moment’s notice, and who recycle their customers’ dollars back into the community.
When I hear people talk about underserved retail in Kent I think about untapped resources. One person’s blighted building is another’s fresh start. Older buildings can be a challenge but they’re also full of potential for new businesses or existing local businesses that want to expand. They’re opportunities for the numbers of unemployed people who can be hired by local businesses or who might start their own businesses.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for new wealth from outside our community and overlooking the opportunities waiting in our own backyard because we drive by them everyday. Buying Local is a way to take stock of these untapped resources.
A 2003 study by Civic Economics, a consulting and research firm, examined what happened to every $100 spent at a chain bookstore and at a locally owned one in Austin, Texas. At the chain, only $13 went back into the local economy. At the local bookstore, it was $45. That’s a big difference.
That’s just one more reason why I’m delighted that the Phoenix Project has put it’s focus on homegrown businesses as tenants.
But the stakes run high for these homegrown businesses. What we value in their unpredictability and uniqueness is also the greatest threat to their existence. Not every chance they take will work and without the corporate resources to R&D their products the way the big boys can, the little guys are often just one bad choice away from going under.
All that is to say that we’ve got to put our money where our mouth is and if we honestly value small homegrown shops then we’ve got to support them, shop in them, and talk about them. Retail is a war and if we’re rooting for the underdog we’ve got to practice a little guerilla marketing.
For most of us, talk is cheap so spread the word and Buy Local. If we don’t Buy Local, it may be Bye Bye Local.