At some point or another, nearly every valley resident is tempted to make the Twin Falls exodus—piling in the car and heading for big-box stores to buy everything from toilet paper and socks to big-screen televisions and furniture.
But one local organization is urging valley residents to try to shop more locally, launching both a holiday campaign and a year-round effort to encourage locals to shop where they live.
Wood River Economic Partnership Director Doug Brown said his organization is launching a project called We Are One Economy, which will start by informing locals about how much they actually may or may not be saving by going to Twin Falls for some purchases.
“We all make runs to Twin,” he admitted. “Everyone does it. So if we get people to stop and think, ‘You know, I’m going to dig around town a little more and maybe skip the last stop [in Twin],’ it could make a huge difference.”
Brown said he was aiming to have people make a slight shift, and simply do 10 percent more of their shopping in town. He said that once people are informed about how little they are actually saving by going to Twin Falls—due partly to rising fuel prices—he thinks locals will be willing to make that small change.
“We don’t want people to become maniacs about shopping locally,” he said. “That’s not practical. [But] perception is so bad, so many times people think they are getting a great deal [in Twin Falls] and they really aren’t.”
To launch the effort, Brown said he’s spoken to 21 local retailers who are willing to participate, including Atkinsons’ Markets, T’s and Temptations in Giaccobi Square and Ketchum Kitchens. Brown said the retailers were on board, hoping that a change in locals’ shopping mentalities can help alleviate some of the stress of having a seasonally affected retail market.
The first major kickoff to the “We Are One Economy” program will be what Brown is calling Share the Spirit, a holiday shopping campaign that urges those searching for gifts to buy them locally. The program was launched in 2006 and then faded, Brown said, but he has obtained agreements from more than 20 retailers to restart it this year.
Businesses partner with charities for a three-day shopping event during which the charities receive part of the proceeds. In return, charities promote the event through their membership databases and set up tables in the stores to raise awareness for their causes.
“Instead of making a discount to attract shoppers, you say, ‘Come on in and shop here and we’ll donate 10 percent of the profits to charity,’” he said. “It was very successful—until the crash.”
Brown said that so far, charities that have partnered with businesses in anticipation of the event include St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation, Sun Valley Adaptive Sports, Company of Fools, Sun Valley Center for the Arts, Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence and the Wood River Bike Coalition.
Brown said the event, which will take place in early December, will be promoted more heavily after Election Day.
However, he said, Share the Spirit will be only one part of a year-round local initiative. He said he hopes the program will eventually become as solid as the Buy Local program in Portland, Maine, or the Choose Local program in Portland, Ore.
Both programs maintain websites that direct shoppers to local, independent businesses and educate consumers on what buying local can do for the region’s economy.
Brown said that despite the community’s small size, he hopes the Wood River Valley’s program can become as influential in this area.
“I think we’re going to build great awareness,” he said.
WREP is also conducting a survey on the We Are One Economy website, www.weareoneeconomy.com, that attempts to determine which products locals leave the valley to buy and how willing they are to shift some of their spending to more local businesses.
So far, Brown said, 99 percent of respondents have said they are willing to shop more locally. The next step, he said, is partnering with Sustain Blaine or another organization to conduct a leakage study, a study to determine how much money locals are spending on Internet and out-of-county purchases.
Still, he said, the major key for local retailers is to make sure locals love to shop in their stores.
“There are no gifts out there,” Brown said. “We have to earn the business. Hopefully, once locals start having better experiences with local stores, they will shop there more.”
Survey on local spending
To help WREP understand how much locals spend on purchases out of the area, visit www.weareoneeconomy.com and click on the “Take Our Survey” tab.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org