When Patrick Brown, the owner of Apple reseller Brown Computer Solutions in Keene, NH, told me that Keene has noticeably better retail sales than his stores in other towns, due to Plaid Friday, I was intrigued. Plaid Friday is a shopping event like Black Friday, but which encourages shoppers to shop at independent local businesses, rather than chains. While I was aware of the shop local movement in my town, it had not occurred to me that we might be ahead of other towns, so I decided to talk to Jennifer Risley, the woman who started Plaid Friday in Keene, to learn more.
It turns out that Plaid Friday started in Oakland, California and Keene’s event is actually regional, taking place in towns throughout the Monadnock Region, including Walpole, Jaffrey, and Peterborough. To support the event, certain local merchants volunteer to be hubs, where the staff is trained to wear plaid, take photos of customers who also wear plaid that day, and offer Plaid Friday specials to customers, who wear plaid. When the event is finished, photos are collected and made into a Plaid Friday collage that is displayed on the Monadnock Buy Local website.
Plaid Friday is Monadnock Buy Local’s main annual event to support the buy local movement and local merchants. Monadnock Buy Local is organized as a 501(c)(6), which is a form of tax exempt organization that is organized with for-profit members and operated for the benefit of those members, like a chamber of commerce, board of trade, or professional football league. The organization’s fiscal sponsor is the American Independent Business Alliance, a nonprofit based in Montana with a mission to help “communities become more self-supporting and resilient through fostering a culture that values and supports independent business and local entrepreneurs.”
The other buy local shopping event sponsored by Monadnock Buy Local is the Shift Your Shopping campaign, which lasts from November 1 to December 30th. This campaign encourages shoppers to support local businesses by pledging a portion of their holiday shopping to independent businesses, and gives participants a chance to win a $500 local shopping spree. Shoppers can sign up through a Google form or Facebook, and the recommended minimum shift is 10%.
Monadnock Buy Local is also the Keene sponsor for Small Business Saturday, the American Express event dedicated to bringing more customers to small businesses after Thanksgiving. While in previous years American Express offered a statement credit to cardholders who shopped small, the company now offers merchant support through customizable marketing materials, free online ads, merchandise kits, and educational event guides. Monadnock Buy Local supports the event by providing information, promoting the event on social media, and supplying local merchants with event swag.
For those who want to continue the fun, the Toadstool Bookshop, an independent chain with stores in Keene, Milford, and Peterborough, started an event called Cider Monday. This is Toadstool owner Willard William’s tongue in cheek repost to Cyber Monday. Participants can enjoy a cup of apple cider when they visit participating businesses from Maine to Vermont, “see some real people, and have a good time.”
Monadnock Buy Local is also joining together with the Savings Bank of Walpole, a local bank chartered in 1875, and the Monadnock United Way, to support Giving Tuesday, a global day of giving sponsored by the 92nd Street Y that occurs the week after Thanksgiving. While this is an international campaign to support charitable giving, there are over 30,000 partners in 68 countries, Monadnock Buy Local’s participation is based on the fact that local shopping supports local businesses, and therefore supports local giving.
While Plaid Friday and other local shopping events are now going strong in its 5th year, it took some time to get going. “This is a grassroots event that any town can take on in a small way,” said Ms. Risley. “We started with only three hubs. Start small and look for allies. There is a lot of support once you start looking to do these types of holiday promotions.”
Monadnock Buy Local supports its mission through a variety of local promotions. These include advertisements in the locally-owned Keene Sentinel and Monadnock Shopper News, as well as e-mail newsletters and Facebook.
The benefit of shopping at locally-owned, independent businesses, is that it supports the local economy. According to data reported by the American Independent Business Alliance, local shopping has a multiplier effect, in which 48% of revenue generated by locally-owned stores gets recirculated in the local economy, versus only 14% for chains. Put another way, $0.48 of every dollar spent locally, stays local, versus $0.14 at chains, or more than three times as much.
So after all that, I had to ask if there is data to support Mr. Brown’s statement that Keene has an edge in holiday sales, and there is. According to the 2015 Independent Business Survey, led by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Advocates for Independent Business, independent businesses in areas with Local First and similar campaigns, saw sales rise 9.3% in 2014, versus 4.9% for areas without such campaigns, and 10.6% for the Monadnock Region. Given these figures, it appears that local shopping campaigns like Plaid Friday supported local retail sales growth that was more than double the national average of about 4%, as estimated by the National Retail Foundation.
Indicating that yes, local retailers in Keene do have an edge when it comes to holiday shopping.