The Somerville Local First coalition officially set up shop last Thursday, hosting a launch party at Johnny D’s Uptown Restaurant and Music Club in Davis Square attended by dozens of enthusiastic business owners, residents and city officials.
Somerville Local First joins more than 60 ‘Local First’ campaigns formed around the United States and Canada and united under the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies network (BALLE), according to Steven Jones-D’agostino, Executive Director for the Sustainable Business Network of Boston (SBN).
Joe Grafton, a Somerville resident and Executive Director of Somerville Local First, began arranging the coalition in February 2007. More than a year later, Grafton, who left a lucrative corporate career to found SLF, stood on the Johnny D’s stage to kick off the SLF launch party.
"We are here tonight to make Somerville one of the capitals of the Local First movement," Grafton told the crowd.
Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone stood to commend the gathered local business owners as "pillars of our economic foundation." He also praised the DeLellis family, who have owned and operated Johnny D’s for nearly 40 years.
Microphone in hand, Grafton made repeated appeals for his case to shop local. He said for every $100 spent in Somerville, $68 stays in the community if spent at a local business, as compared to a residual $43 if a purchase is made elsewhere.
He took out his wallet several times, shaking it at the audience. "We pull this out every day," he told the audience. "Think local, shop local.‚Äù
Jon O’Toole, a co-owner of Grand in Union Square who will co-chair the new SLF Steering Committee, announced that SLF offers free entry level membership for privately owned businesses local to Somerville. The official SLF logo, designed by Diane Novetsky, founder of local design studio Nova Design, was also unveiled. Grafton said he intends to personally deliver decals of the logo to local businesses, to "create a visual cue" for shoppers to buy local.
At the top of the agenda for the new SLF was the "tremendous opportunity" to organize resources and cut costs for the small businesses that, lacking ordering volume, are often forced to pay full market prices. Grafton also told the crowd that with "strength in numbers," they could change the mentality of shoppers who assume shopping locally is too expensive or inconvenient.
"Let’s take those reasons and make them untrue," he said.
Dave Jick, SLF Steering Committee member and owner of Dave’s Fresh Pasta in Davis Square, said he hoped to create better access to affordable health care for small business owners.
"It’s not just exposure. Let’s help them on the other side," he said. Jick also pointed to green initiatives, "something that would lower their energy bills," as priorities he would make for the businesses joining SLF.
Speaking before the event, Rob May, Strategic Planning and Community Development Director for the city of Somerville, said local businesses are often the leaders of developing neighborhoods, " the ones that get the ball rolling."
"They make that area special," said May. He added that the city is "seriously exploring" ways to make space for local business more attractive and to keep owner costs affordable.
Traditionally, groups similar to SLF and the greater local business movement offer strong opinions for opposing "corporate America" and bringing down big business.
Grafton dismissed any notions of competition with larger corporate outposts.
"We try to educate people in the community why to shop locally," he said. "And I think we make a very solid case."