When I first moved to JP in the 1990s, when I was in my 20s, I didn’t give much thought to the importance of shopping local. I moved to JP because I loved the character of the neighborhood – the diversity, the creativity and the open spaces. When it came to my shopping habits, I made decisions the way most folks do, based on price and convenience.
Still, at that time, I did a lot of my shopping with local businesses because of those factors. I lived around the corner from what was the Arborway Grocery that later became Harvest Coop on South Street. I did a lot of my clothes shopping at the thrift stores and what was formerly Gumshoe, now 40 South. (I was known as “The Thursday Shirt Guy” because I usually bought a new shirt on pay day. I also met my future life and business partner there!)
When my wife and I took the plunge and opened our first store on Boylston Street 16 years ago, we did so in part because we wanted to see if it would be possible to make a living working in our own neighborhood and serving our neighbors. We learned the answer is yes! Albeit with a lot of hard work, some inevitable challenges and the continuous support of lots of great employees, customers, suppliers and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corp.
We made a point of seeking local sources for goods and local providers for services because it seemed like the right thing to do. In the years since, we have seen not only that it is the right thing to do but that it is critical to maintaining the diversity of the neighborhood that we are so deeply attached to now. Shopping locally does more than spur business growth: It spurs growth in our neighborhood and helps to preserve the diversity that makes us stronger as a community.
The American Independent Business Alliance has compiled numerous studies showing nearly one-half of every dollar spent in locally owned businesses stays in the neighborhood. The research firm Civic Economics has shown in many such studies how local businesses reinvest much of their income in the community. The more we do to encourage folks to stay in the area and shop with locally owned and independent businesses, the more money stays in Jamaica Plain.
JP Shops: Supporting each other through JP Local First and Nift
Three years ago, I worked with several other locally owned businesses to found JP Local First (jplocalfirst.org). Since that time, we have grown to more than 170 locally owned businesses and local nonprofits, and we are still growing! In 2015, we partnered with Nift as a way for local businesses to help each other by referring customers to one another and providing gift cards to support those referrals.
Chances are, if you’re a small business owner in Jamaica Plain, you’ve referred customers to other small business owners in the area. Let’s face it: Small shops simply don’t carry every item a customer wants. While this is a loose “partnership,” another way that our business is supporting other local businesses is through Nift. The purpose is simple: Help neighborhood businesses get customers through the door. I now hand out Nift cards as a way to thank my best customers for shopping at my store. But I’m doing more than just thanking them, I’m encouraging them to visit other local businesses that are part of the Nift network. They get a free gift to experience another Jamaica Plain business, and they’ll likely tell their friends. The result? More sales from local customers, and more money staying in our neighborhood.
Enter Giftfest 2016: An opportunity for all
If you’re a business owner in Jamaica Plain, you can be part of this network too, and Giftfest 2016 -- taking place Tuesday, June 21 -- is a great reason to join. Local tech companies will be distributing Nift gift cards to their employees encouraging them to do their shopping in Jamaica Plain. Boing Toy Store, Station 8 Salon, Hatched and Bella Luna restaurant are among the other businesses participating, and the network only gets stronger and more valuable for us and our customers as more businesses join.
Interested in getting involved? It’s not too late!
If you are a Jamaica Plain business owner interested in joining the Nift Network and participating in Giftfest, sign up at www.niftgiftfest.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You have much to gain: new customers, a great way to thank existing customers and more money staying in our local neighborhood.
David Warner is co-owner of City Feed and Supply.