Jan Norman

Jan Norman, shown here in her Ithaca Made store, is the co-founder of Local First Ithaca.

Fireworks, flags, and financial responsibility: Patriotism and Ithaca-pride can adopt a new tradition with this July’s “Independents Week,” a designated period by Local First Ithaca and the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) to promote buying local products. 

Businesses around Ithaca have opted into the week, which will run from July 1 to 7, looking to bring awareness to the impact of buying products and services locally. The idea for “Independents Week”—pun intended—was first coined by AMIBA, but will debut for its first time in Ithaca this year. 

“After all, what’s more American than supporting local businesses?” asked Jan Norman, co-founder of Local First Ithaca. 

Different businesses will participate in the week in their own, independent ways, as LimeBike will do a presentation of their new e-scooters and Bikewalk Tompkins will have a Wheel of Fortune activity with small prizes. “The flavor of each community comes through,” Norman said. 

Over 20 businesses were recruited to participate by Local First Ithaca, a network of locally-owned businesses, services, and nonprofits that has been an advocate for local businesses for the last 11 years. The organization first emerged in response to the economic pressure caused by chain stores, and now continues to struggle against the preeminence of online shopping, where profits and revenues do not typically find their way back to the community. 

The group also issues “The Guide to Being Local,” a coupon book that features testimonies and stories of Ithaca area businesses, and has put on other campaigns to promote community businesses. 

In addition to the playful festivities, the organizers also commissioned a study by Civic Economics, an economic analysis firm, to look into the “recirculation of revenue,” or the amount of revenue that goes back into the surrounding community.. Each business that opted in completed a survey about its business practices and their revenue distribution. 

The study found a difference of more than 30% between the revenue circulation of local and national businesses. While national chain eateries recirculated 30.4% of revenue, independently-owned businesses recirculated around 65%. The same analysis was done with retailers, which estimated that 13.6% of national retailers’ revenue recirculates, in comparison to 46.7% of local retailers. Civic Economics looked at local eateries like Purity Ice Cream, Cafe Dewitt and Red Feet Wine Market & Spirit Provisions, and compared their revenues to national chain eateries Red Lobster, Olive Garden, McDonald’s and P.F. Chang’s; the same model was used for retailers.

The Civic Economics study demonstrates the importance of shopping local for community wellbeing, according to Norman, a longtime local business owner. Norman has run Ithacamade, a gift shop nestled in Dewitt Mall, for 11 years, and started a clothing line, Silk Oak, 42 years ago with her friend. 

Norman highlighted the histories of other local hotspots, pointing to GreenStar’s and Ithaca Bakery’s longevity, noting that part of the importance of these businesses is the development of a “local business ecosystem.” The bookkeeper at a local retail storer may contract art from a local graphic artist, Norman said as a hypothetical example of the interconnectedness of independent businesses. 

Aside from a social media campaign, buttons and other activities, one part of the week’s festivities will be an “Indie Challenge” where participants try to see if they can meet their needs by only purchasing products from locally-owned and locally-operated business. 

Celebrating locally-owned businesses alongside Independence Day is fitting, Norman said, because “it is patriotic, the fact that anybody could start their own business.”

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