Chances are you've already been challenged to buy more local goods. It's not necessarily an easy thing to do; you might have to do a bit of research or travel a little out of your way—and we all know convenient chain stores can be tempting. But the thing is, says Lisette DeMars, "buying local really just does so much more."
And she should know: DeMars is the membership coordinator of the Tucson chapter of Local First Arizona (LFA), a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening communities and local economies by encouraging people to support locally owned businesses. Local First Arizona (like other similar organizations across the country) believes that by supporting and celebrating local businesses instead of doing our shopping at chain stores, we can preserve our vibrant community, promote environmental sustainability and help the national economy by strengthening local economies.
The organization was originally initiated in Phoenix in 2003 under the name Arizona Chain Reaction. In 2007, the group gained nonprofit status and updated the name. Soon after, DeMars and several other members decided that Tucson deserved its own chapter; today, there are more than 150 LFA members here in Tucson, and 1,800 members total.
But what makes buying local so much better than buying from chains? According to the LFA Web site, 85 percent of our state's economy is generated by Arizona-owned businesses, and keeping them afloat can help us all. When you shop in a local business—as opposed to a chain store—your money is re-circulated locally over and over again, creating up to 75 percent more tax revenue for our community and state.
"It's 45 cents staying here versus 13," explains DeMars.
To celebrate Arizona's local businesss—and to inspire people to go local—former Gov. Janet Napolitano officially declared the week surrounding July 4 as Independents Week. This year marks the seventh annual Independents Week and will take place through July 5.
"It's one of the annual events that will help bring awareness to the community and to our own members as well," says DeMars.
Because it's Independents Week, now is an especially inviting time to take the Local First Arizona pledge: Declare that you'll do your best to shop 100 percent locally for the week. To help you out, says DeMars, you can download LFA's Golden Coupon that gets you 20 percent off at participating local businesses. "As a thank you for helping out," she says, "they're offering discounts on all sorts of cool stuff."
The culmination of all this Local First Arizona energy will be the Indie-Pendence Day Extravaganza on July 4 at Hotel Congress. The Independence Day event at Hotel Congress has annually been downtown Tucson's largest outdoor Fourth of July party, but this year, in a celebration of Tucson's vibrant local businesses, the bulk of the proceeds will go to Local First Arizona.
"It will be a chance to highlight local business members and invite nonmembers to join in," explains DeMars.
The evening will begin with a family-friendly barbecue featuring live music from local musicians including Tom Walbank, Al Foul, Pork Torta and the Tryst. There will also be a raffle with prizes donated by local businesses, aimed at inspiring the public to visit these local treasures. These prizes include a few Locals Only CDs from KXCI FM 91.3, a 60-minute massage from the Lotus Massage and Wellness Center, and a $100 gift certificate to Bookmans.
After the 9 p.m. fireworks display, as the music gets a little louder, the event will become a little less family-friendly.
Amid all the excitement, Local First Arizona representatives will be around to make sure you know that your participation is especially patriotic (and not just because it's the Fourth of July): You're helping out our city, state and country.
"We don't want to get preachy, but there will be a bit of education," admits DeMars. "We want people to know what we're doing and what they're doing for Arizona."