"Deck the Halls" and "Jingle Bells" have met their 21st century rival as East Bay cities and towns carol "Shop Local!" -- hoping the tune will ring loud enough in the ears of East Bay residents to ring in the sales at local merchants.

"This year we had a party on Dec. 8 with bands and free cookies. We had 'Try Lafayette First' logos and posters in the store windows," says Lafayette Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jay Lifson. "People totally get why it's important to have a good, vibrant downtown."

That city is also repeating last year's successful "Shop Local" contest. Customers spending at least $150 between now and Jan. 3 at three different types of businesses can enter their receipts to win shopping-spree prizes in the new year. In 2011, receipts showed that 200 businesses had been visited; although he doesn't have the grand total, Lifson says amounts spent ranged from the $150 minimum to one noteworthy $3,200 receipt.

Lifson admitted results in 2012 have been "mixed" and he attributed any success to "hammering at the message" year round.

"You need to be creative -- and give away stuff for free. It's hard to get merchants to participate. It's like pulling teeth. They've got their heads down because they're so busy."


Advertisement

Jen Frick, owner of relatively new Tulip Baby and Kids Boutique, moved her store from Oakland four years ago.

"I appreciate the chamber's amazing efforts. However, I can't say I've seen a significant increase from the Dec. 8 campaign. I'm telling more shoppers about the contest than I am finding they are telling me about it," Frick says. "There could be more push, starting with bankers and realtors, who see people every day. It's on all of us to shop locally if we want to get out of this economic situation."

Specialtees has been in Lafayette for 35 years, and owner Ann Rubin says loyal customers have helped her store stave off the damaging effects of online retail.

"I know that others around me are suffering," Rubin says. "That new mall in Livermore means prices have to be really sharp. We're on the Internet to 7,000 people, so I can't tell if the chamber's campaign brought in new customers."

In Orinda, outgoing COC President Rick Kattenburg says the "Shop Orinda" campaign started in earnest with giving away reusable bags and placing tent cards on tables at restaurants.

"We've displayed the 'Shop Orinda' graphic on windows, on our website and in a banner in the Lamorinda Weekly," Kattenburg says. "It's almost become a salutation, a way to remind citizens that keeping dollars here will fix the roads and at the very least, cut down on our carbon footprint."

Kattenburg says the city relies on events like the Orinda Restaurant Tour and the annual "Live at the Orinda" comedy show to bring attention to downtown, but agrees with Lifson that getting the message out takes constant diligence.

Cyndi Hilton, whose Hilton House Consign/Design & Estate Liquidations. Inc. is selling more high-end specialty items for homes and fine jewelry as the economy stabilizes, says increased communication and higher discounts have had more impact on her bottom line than the chamber's monthly mixers and similar programs.

"It would be good if they did more promotions for retailers," she says. "Customers have to be reminded more frequently to stay local."

In Moraga, chamber administrator Kathe Nelson says a changed website, with easier access and updated blue and red graphics (to tie in with Saint Mary's College colors) and local banner ads are the major thrust of the "Shop Moraga First" campaign.

"Several years ago, we tried different events, like caroling and Santa visits," she recalls. "It didn't come off that well. We found people had too many things to do on the weekends."

Chamber membership is up tremendously, she says, and increased networking, spotlighting special retail programs and forming subgroups is now the focus. Restaurants and retailers do not share the same needs, and Moraga is customizing their approach to better support local commerce.

"We're still learning," Nelson says. "Most of our efforts have been on making different departments feel welcome and supported."

Moraga Hardware Store owner Bill Snyder and Edy Schwartz started the local shopping program five or six years ago.

"The impact sometimes can't be measured in dollars and cents, but the fact that there are (shop local) bookmarks, posters, and conversations about it is good. I hear people say, 'I always Shop Moraga First,' they actually repeat the slogan!" he says.

Still, Snyder suggests elected officials, service organizations and town businesses could do a better job getting the word out.

"We need to continually talk about it, lead by example, use internal memos and emails. We need to keep it top of mind and look within to buy equipment and supplies for community events right here, even if it costs more," he insists.

---