That being said, local businesses don’t always feel secure, even in a place like Santa Cruz. Which is why, in 2007, half a dozen small businesses owners banded together to form Think Local First Santa Cruz (TLF).
“Many small towns in the US are becoming corporatized,” said co-chair Peter Beckman of the initial decision to form TLF. “We wanted to avoid this development.”
The organization’s starting goal — to “promote and sustain economic vitality while preserving the unique character of Santa Cruz County” — has stayed the same to this day. But TLF has grown a lot since drafting that goal among six businesses in a meeting at Bookshop Santa Cruz, one of the founding businesses. Now over 630 businesses boast membership, showing their allegiance through the ‘Think Local First’ window decals you’ve surely seen around town.
Not only have the amount of businesses grown, but the type has spread from strictly stores to also include banks and educational and health services.
Along with those snazzy window decals, member businesses of TLF receive the benefits of a full-on branding campaign. This includes stressing that when local businesses succeed, the whole community succeeds as well. A study referenced on their website found that for every $100 spent at local businesses, $68 stays in the community. This is contrasted against money spent at non-local businesses, where only $43 of every $100 stays local.
TLF is always working on different projects to promote local businesses. Their goal for 2013 is to plan a roadmap to spread local awareness even more.
The recently-formed Scotts Valley branch has been particularly innovative in starting the Business 2 Classroom Initiative, which links thriving local businesses to classrooms who need financial support. The businesses pledge a certain amount to a classroom each month to help buy supplies, and the class gets to go on a field trip to that business.
TLF is similar to other organizations in cities like Berkeley and Portland. But not every city has an organization that promotes local businesses, and many other towns have already completely surrendered to chain businesses. Beckman thinks that hasn’t happened in Santa Cruz because of the culture here.
“Everyone likes being here,” he said. “Many people have lived here a long time and are attached to the Santa Cruz quality of life.”
For many in Santa Cruz, that quality of life is directly linked to local businesses.