With dozens of large retail chains nearby, including two Walmarts–both within a five minute drive from each other–small businesses like those in downtown Woodbury need all the help they can get these days.
“The backbone of business in Gloucester County is small business,” says Gloucester County Freeholder Heather Simmons–who was the first to sign the county's "Shop, Dine, Go Local" pledge Thursday morning, during a press conference at the Monogram Shoppe on Broad Street in Woodbury.
But Gloucester County isn't the only one trying to give local, small businesses a boost during a slow economic recovery, and at a time when competition from online businesses is fiercer than ever.
Camden County has its own program to promote shopping at local businesses, "Shop Local–Buy Camden County."
And, Burlington County may be gettting in on the act soon, too.
In Woodbury, Simmons, along with Mayor Ron Riskie and Les Vail of the Gloucester County Chamber of Commerce introduced Gloucester County's initiative at the the Monogram Shoppe in Woodbury’s downtown business district–one of the many places they are hoping will prosper from this new campaign.
The Shop, Dine, Go Local campaign will span 14 weeks, in which Gloucester County residents can sign a pledge on the county’s website or on the campaign’s Facebook page to spend locally. Once signed up, residents can access coupons and specials from local businesses in Gloucester County. These offers will be available up to Saturday, Nov. 24.
On that date, Small Business Saturday, a nationally campaign by American Express, encourages shoppers to buy from small businesses as opposed to driving to the mall or a big-box store.
After Nov. 24, the local businesses of Gloucester County will be given surveys which will help to evaluate the effectiveness of "Shop, Dine, Go Local."
“It’s about supporting the economy on a very human scale,” Simmons said.
The Mongogramme Shop has been at its current location, 5 S. Broad St., for just six weeks, after moving from another location on Broad Street where it operated for 25 years.
Co-owner Dottie McQuade says the shop has felt little impact from the recession and the encroachment of chain retail stores–due to the shop's niche industry–compared to other local small businesses.
The shop sells everything from beach towels to baby blankets for embroidery. Yet, they will embroider just about anything, even if it is not from their shop–a service sets them apart from many retail chains.
The Monogram Shoppe will hold an open house on Sept. 14 -15, which will include refreshments and door prizes. The shop holds an open house every year, however it is especially important this year–due to the recent move.
“I’m hoping small businesses can get a piece of the pie,” McQuade said.
Riskie, Woodbury's mayor, said events like the Car Show on Sept. 1 and the Fall Arts Fest on Sept. 29, are helping to drive people into downtown Woodbury and "Shop, Dine, Go Local" is another step in the right direction.
“The battle is to get them here,” he said of shoppers.
Not everyone is a fan of the way the county is trying to help local merchants.
"As a small business owner in Gloucester County, I completely support the notion that Gloucester County residents should support Gloucester County businesses," said Republican freeholder candidate Margie Love, in a statement. "With that said, this campaign is nothing more than a band aid in the grand scheme of things. Until Democrats begin to turn back the clock on years of $83 million in tax increases, Gloucester County businesses will find it difficult to recover."
"The other problem is with the recent reassessment of county businesses," added her GOP running mate, Tom Thistle. "We've heard from various business owners that their businesses are being compared to businesses in Cherry Hill. This is a double standard of the worst kind–if we can shop, dine and go local, (Freeholder Director Robert) Damminger and Democrats should sign a pledge to assess local."
'The driving force'
Politics aside, Camden County's initiative focuses on local businesses both small and large.
The county launched “Shop Local–Buy Camden County” last April and has since seen plenty of growth, according to Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli.
The initiative’s website encourages residents to put $10 of normal spending a month to local business, which would total $35 million in revenue for local businesses if every household in Camden County joined. More specifically, Cappelli says the campaign is aimed to help market local businesses.
“Small businesses are the driving force in development and employment,” Cappelli said. “The more we can help them, the stronger we will be.”
So far, promotion for the initiative has come from staging events at local retail locations, such as a recent event at Lee Newman in Cherry Hill, where members handed out publications and material on the benefits of shopping locally.
“Shop Local–Buy Camden County” is also hosting "$27 on the 27th," which will be held on Sept. 27 in Collingswood’s downtown shopping area from 6 to 8pm. Residents are encouraged to spend a least $27 at the shops. The Pop Shop’s party room will be serving refreshments and those who bring receipts totaling $27 or more will be eligible to win door prizes and Collingswood Cash worth $500. Those attending the reception are asked to reply on the Facebook events page. (Collingswood Cash is another way of keeping shopper's dollars local–the gift certificates, sold in various increments, are good at any of the borough's restaurants and retail shops.)
“There’s an economic benefit to shopping locally and keeping dollars in the community,” says Sandi Kelly, director of Camden County's Department of Economic and Business Development.
Kelly says she hopes to further promotes this initiative by creating “Buy Camden County” discount cards. But for now, locals can use the Buy Camden County Facebook page to find promotions and discounts.
Also, Burlington County spokesman Ralph Shrom says he is currently working with county freeholders to create a similar initiative after recently learning about other “buy local” campaigns.
“However, we are certainly supportive of our local business and “buy local” goes hand-in-hand with other initiatives in Burlington County,” says Shrom.
For instance, Shrom cites Burlington County’s newest project, the Business and Jobseekers website, which helps businesses find qualified employees and helps residents find jobs–it is currently the second most viewed page on Burlington County’s website since its launch two months ago.