Guest Columnist

Love your Eastern Iowa businesses or they will disappear

Czech Village in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Czech Village in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Last week I had a breakfast meeting at Lucky’s on 16th, lunch from Anvil Meat Market, picked up my Obama book from Next Page Books and a nutritious dinner from Almost Famous Popcorn. In this COVID world, all stops were safe and quick. I encourage you to do the same. Take some time to visit — and spend money in — Czech Village, New Bo, and any of the other neighborhood Main Street commercial districts. I have zero patience or sympathy for someone who shops at their favorite store once per year and then is shocked and dismayed when it suddenly disappears.

As a board member of the Czech Village New Bohemia Main Street District, we drive physical improvements, economic development incentives and community outreach events. We are making a difference with our independent retailers, restaurants, cultural attractions, and service businesses. Even in a good year, it is a mountainous challenge to successfully operate your own businesses.

As vice president of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (NCSML), this has been a year unlike any other for our organization and our nonprofit neighbors. As a Smithsonian affiliate, we are in regular contact with our colleagues and we are collectively experiencing 30 percent of attendance of a typical year. For NCSML, we are around 38 percent, still a fraction of what we expected and budgeted. When closed in March, we pivoted as quickly as possible for online and virtual programming, online museum store shopping, curbside pickup, and free local delivery. Our retail store is a significant attractor to our facility and part of our annual budget.

Yep, I am more than a bit biased, but independent, locally owned retailers, restaurants and cultural attractions are what make our cities into communities. We depend on them to make our neighborhoods unique and to bring them to life. People need to put their money where their mouths are about local. Think about this before you buy your daily coffee and all your daily purchases.

Take a moment to consider:

• Local business generates 70 percent more local economic activity per square foot than big box retail.

• Spend $100 at a local independent business and $68 is produced in local economic activity.

• Spend $100 at a non-local big-box business and only $42 in produced in local economic activity.

• Money spent at a local business generates 3.5 times more wealth for the local economy compared with money spent at a chain-owned non-local business

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• If every household in the United States were to shift $10 per month in their typical spending to a locally owned independent business instead of a national chain, over $9.3 billion would be directly returned to local economies.

Local retailers, restaurateurs, and cultural institutions must collectively have their act together if they expect customers and local residents to visit, shop, and support. During a year unlike any other, please think twice about where you spend your income. Spend wisely. Do not buy local because you feel guilty. Buy local because you love local and it is the right thing to do.

I will be happy to buy you a local cup of coffee, safely share local lunch with you, or help you select an ornament, jewelry, or book from our museum store. Happy Holidays.

Jim Miller lives in Cedar Rapids.

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