by Jordan Green
Localist organizations in the Triad’s three cities use different models to meet different needs.
When Meridith Kovach was taking online courses at Full Sail University as a stay-at-home mom with two children in High Point, she said she practically “lived off Dunkin’ Donuts.”
So it was a revelation when she discovered DeBeen Espresso, a locally owned coffee shop with a friendly staff. She set out on a quest to find out about other local businesses in High Point, and an internet search led her to several Yelp reviews, which she found to be inadequate. She founded Support Local High Point around the time she graduated from Full Sail University with a degree in web design and development in February 2013.
“I needed a project while I was waiting for a job,” Kovach said. “I created a database of all the local businesses in High Point. I started by going door to door to all the businesses and introducing myself. They’re hidden. You never see them or you drive by them and never notice them. We have the same kinds of businesses in High Point, but people drive to Greensboro. They say, ‘Oh, it’s in a bad part of town.’ Or, ‘It’s on the other side of town.’ Really, you would drive to Greensboro, but you won’t drive across town to patronize a local business?”
Kovach’s effort gathered speed about two months ago with the Local Love Card Project, which has signed up about 35 local businesses. The businesses sell membership cards to their customers for a nominal fee, allowing customers to obtain 10 percent discounts at participating businesses. Kovach doesn’t have a count of how many cards have been sold, but she calls the gift store It’s In the Bag, which has sold about 50 cards, her “powerhouse.”
Unlike Triad Local First, Support Local High Point does not charge a membership fee to participating businesses.
“In High Point, I don’t see a lot of businesses jumping on a paid structure,” Kovach said. “The chamber of commerce is a paid membership organization, and a lot of businesses don’t feel like they get anything out of it.”
Reflective of its name, Triad Local First was initially conceived as an organization for the entire region, Executive Director Luck Davidson said. Founded by Dottie Cook, a Greensboro businesswoman, Triad Local First was modeled after Lowcountry Local First, a region-wide outfit based in Charleston, SC that agreed to provide mentorship.
But Davidson, who has served as executive director for about two years, said over time the challenges of expanding beyond its Greensboro base have become apparent.
“We were encouraged to try to incorporate the whole Triad in what we’re doing,” she said. “The reality was that our board evolved out of friendships and relationships with the original founder. Branching out to the other cities of the Triad has been difficult.”
At this stage, Davidson indicated that offering assistance to Support Local High Point, along with any groups of people who want to launch similar groups in Winston-Salem or Kernersville seems like a better approach than expansion.
“We aren’t trying to be Triad Local First that tries to control the localist movement in the Triad,” she said. “We would rather support another group over there. It’s just a lot easier to do something in your own city. You can cash-mob a business and not have to drive a long way home after drinking a glass of wine at a networking event if you have your own group.”
Davidson added that Support Local High Point is in a unique position to share expertise with other city-based local groups on its Local Love card, the only project of its kind in the region.
Meanwhile, Triad Local First has focused its marketing dollars on producing banners that highlight reasons to support local businesses while showcasing a photo of the owner of each featured businesses. The banners are currently on display at Zeto Wine & Cheese Shop, Bestway Grocery, the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, Pho Hien Vuong restaurant and four other businesses. Davidson said she and her board members are interested in helping raise money through the use of their 501(c)(3) status to help Support Local High Point produce banners.
“We in Greensboro need to be rooting for Winston and rooting for High Point, and I expect them to reciprocate,” Davidson said. “We don’t need to be competing with each other. If a bakery in High Point fails, it doesn’t help us here at all. If the whole region has a strong localist movement and people understand why it’s important to buy from a local bakery versus bread imported from New Jersey, that’s going to be good for everybody. If High Point develops a strong downtown, that’s not going to hurt Greensboro one bit. We’re all going to rise together, and the more attractive our cities are the more our airport is going to benefit.”
Aside from the banner program, Triad Local First also sponsors two programs designed to promote the local economy. The organization partners with Downtown Greensboro Inc. and Running With Horses LLC to produce City Market, a monthly pop-up market. And Triad Local First partners with Face to Face Greensboro and BlueZoom Marketing to produce Ethnosh, a showcase of international restaurants.
“We encourage our businesses to understand as part of our education process that to get customers to support them they also follow those guidelines as well to support other businesses,” Davidson said. “One aspect is purchasing services from each other. Often they’ll do that for a discounted rate. We haven’t formalized anything. It’s an agreement we have among each other.”
The block of West Fourth Street between Cherry and Marshall streets in Winston-Salem is the envy of the Triad in terms of vitality and support for local businesses.
“We call it ‘Our little block of awesome’ because we’re one of the smallest blocks in Winston-Salem, but we like to say, ‘We’re packed with awesome,’” said Tim Beeman, a member of the board of directors for Second Sundays on 4th and a proprietor of the Less Desirables.
The idea behind Second Sundays on 4th is both to promote local merchants and give something back to the community by providing family activities such as a bounce castle while allowing parents to listen to live bands.
“This town had a stigma for a long time and no one wanted to be downtown,” Beeman said. “Yes, it’s been about 10 years since that stigma had any relevance.
“When people start taking things for granted, then things fall apart,” he added. “We support the community, and we hope the community supports us as well.”
Kovach said she applies localist principles when she visits Winston-Salem or Greensboro, noting that Easy Peasy in Greensboro is her favorite bakery, but her focus has to remain on High Point. Next on her agenda is an online calendar of events to educate residents on the plethora of activities in their own city, including concerts at High Point Theatre and yoga on Oak Hollow Lake.
“I don’t promote anything outside of High Point unless our locals are involved,” she said. “Winston-Salem and Greensboro don’t need our help. We want people to see we’re more than just a city between Greensboro and Winston-Salem.”