Jan Norman of IthacaMade


Try this one simple trick, new Ithacans, to find out what goods and services are offered by locally owned businesses: Pick up The Guide to Being Local, produced by Local First Ithaca, and find in that $15 booklet lots of stories about local ventures, and lots of savings.

Local First Ithaca began in 2008 and has grown into a network of independent businesses, farmers, non-profits, and individuals who promote and encourage spending dollars with independent businesses and service providers in Ithaca.

The annual Guide to Being Local the group produces is, yes, a coupon book—one that can earn its cover price back in savings even for the tourist here on a weekend jaunt. But the Guide is also about educating people on why keeping dollars in the local economy, circulating through independently-owned businesses, is so important.

“Initially, there wasn’t really much consumer awareness of the difference between what’s local and what’s independent,” said Jan Norman, proprietor of Ithacamade, in the DeWitt Mall. “Locally owned means all the decisions rest here. It’s not dictated by a corporation somewhere else that might not be interested in the health of this community.”

Norman has run businesses in Ithaca for nearly 40 years. In her time, she’s seen “the landscape of what local business is really change.”

“I started to notice downtowns changing a lot in New York State,” Norman said. “Towns that were thriving in the ‘70s, a lot of them are shuttered. We started to look at what towns that were thriving, what they were doing differently.”

That curiosity led Norman and some other folks to find BALLE, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, of which Local First Ithaca is now a member network. With ideas from that group and other organizations and towns, Local First was launched. Its first project was a holiday “buy local” campaign; since, Local First has grown to print the Guide and offer networking services for business owners.

“There’s a place for everyone in Local First Ithaca,” Norman said, “from the small, single proprietor, running a microbusiness, to larger businesses like Ithaca Bakery or GreenStar that employ hundreds of people.”

The Guide has in its 200-plus pages a significant amount of educational material about the benefits of local buying, the kind of information that first inspired Norman and others to start Local First Ithaca. The starkest example is shown on two facing pages with pie charts describing where dollars go when they’re spent at a locally-owned establishment, and when they’re not. Spend $100 at a local business, and $68 stays in circulation here; spend $100 with an entity owned by out-of-towners, and only $43 is left in town.

“It’s not only about buying local,” Norman said, “it’s about public policy that supports local ownership, keeping more money in the community. It’s about leveling the playing field. A lot of the economy is geared to bigger businesses and larger scales. Then you add the proliferation of online shopping, and you have what they call the ‘leaky bucket syndrome.’ Money comes in, but it leaks out quickly.”

Studies have shown that keeping money in circulation locally has a multiplier effect in stimulating local economies; sales from independent businesses have two to four times the effect than sales to corporately owned businesses.

Inside the Guide are nearly 100 pages of short stories, not only about local businesses, but schools, theaters, farms, non-profit service providers, and art galleries.

For the new Ithacan, the Guide is a resource to see what this place is all about.

“This shows what makes this town tick,” Norman said of the Guide to Being Local. “Here is what people who love being here do and support.” §

Visit localfirstithaca.org for more info.


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