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Hometown Peninsula is a peninsula-wide alliance of locally owned, independent businesses and supporters.

HTP’s mission is to support locally-owned, independent businesses on the peninsula, to maintain our unique community character, to educate citizens that purchasing locally creates community economic strength, and to bring back the vibrant hometown to our communities that is being displaced by national chains and online stores.

Hometown Peninsula Independent Business Alliance is a non-profit organization representing locally-owned businesses on the San Francisco Peninsula. Our goal is to shift community culture to support the core of independent businesses that help keep the Peninsula unique and the local economy sustainable. 

Organization History In the late summer of 2005, Kepler’s, a fifty-year-old independent bookstore in Menlo Park, California, abruptly shut down. Owner Clark Kepler explained that bookstore chains and Amazon.com had displaced so much of the store’s sales that he could no longer pay the bills. But before Kepler could file for bankruptcy, the business was swept up in an outpouring of community grief. Hundreds of local residents rallied outside the shuttered store, which was soon covered in forlorn love letters from customers describing how the bookstore had been the center of community life and what a loss it was. “Can’t the store be saved? You’re one of the main reasons I’m here.” Many offered money: “How about a monthly donation? I can do $50/mo… Give us a Web site so we can all support you. Let us help. Please.” Soon someone set up SaveKeplers.com and the pledges poured in. Five weeks after it had closed, Kepler’s was back, saved by a group of local investors who vowed to return the business to sound financial footing, and numerous small donations from residents.

 

Once of the more remarkable aspects of this community effort to save a bookstore is that many of the people who rallied – who so adored this business that they could not conceive of their town without it and were willing to give their time and even their money to save it – confessed in interviews with reporters covering the story that they, too, had been buying more and more books online and at Target and Borders. They loved the store for its many author events and for the joy of browsing and meeting neighbors, and for the sense of community it fostered, but that devotion did not always translate into regular patronage. The store’s near closure brought into stark relief just what was at stake.

 

Across the country, people are coming to similar realizations about the value of locally owned, independent businesses – the beloved bookstores, century-old family hardware stores, local grocers, and funky neighborhood record stores – as well as the high cost to communities and local economies of the corporate retailers that have grown to dominate so much of our landscape… Independent Business Alliances have sprung up in more than three dozen communities since the late 1990s and, through creative marketing and educational campaigns, are making “locally owned” something residents are increasingly seeking and supporting… This explosion of activity may well herald the beginning of a sea change in our priorities as a society.

The above excerpted from Big-Box Swindle by Stacey Mitchell (Beacon Press 2006)

 

In the spring of 2007, Clark Kepler, along with other independent business owners, formed an independent business alliance called Hometown Peninsula. Its mission is to keep peninsula hometowns alive and thriving by encouraging residents to buy from locally owned, independent businesses. Membership to Hometown Peninsula is open to local independent businesses that have a primary place of business on the peninsula and whose owners have a full-decision-making authority for their business. Individuals who support the goals of Hometown Peninsula may become supporting members.

The Problem Communities increasingly are losing their ability to determine their character and future, largely due to increased control by outside corporate influence resulting from a lack of proactive planning by local governments, the economic and political power of corporate chains, and minimal public awareness of the benefits independent businesses bring to the community.  Local governments often are wooed easily into providing tax breaks to absentee-owned corporations, and deals made with developers leave local views and needs out of the conversationundefinedas long as zoning needs are met.  Corporate chains have the advantages of economies of scale, large advertising budgets, and can sustain a financial loss during economic downturn that community-based businesses do not have or cannot sustain.  The ramifications of the loss of community self-determination are interwoven and far-reaching and include consequences to the social fabric, environmental sustainability and well-being, freedom of expression and the arts, and democracy.

Organizational Activity Hometown Peninsula works to attain some of the advantages enjoyed by national chain corporations for community-based independent businesses through facilitating group purchasing and advertising to achieve economies of scale, providing a “brand” for local independent businesses, raising public awareness, facilitating intra-organizational mentoring, and local advocacy.

 

The Problem HTP Addresses Our communities increasingly are losing their ability to determine their character and future, largely due to increased control by outside corporate influence resulting from a lack of proactive planning and minimal public awareness.  Both residents and local governments often have their hands tied by developers who are more motivated by profit than contributing to community well-being.  In addition, local governments have been wooed into providing tax breaks or subsidies to corporations promising increased employment opportunities and sales tax revenues in exchange for locating in a particular community (or threatening to provide them to another nearby location if a community blocks the effort).  The ramifications of this loss of self-determination are interwoven, and include:

 

Social Consequences:  While many community residents perceive they will gain choices when a new big box or chain moves in, their choices actually diminish in some important ways.  We know the corporation provides products found anywhere there is an outletundefinedperhaps in a neighboring community, and certainly at one if its direct corporate competitors.  However, when a big box comes to town, 16 percent of its revenue draws from new sales or from neighboring communities, while 84 percent of its sales are taken directly from existing area businesses. (Stone [1995] Competing with the Discount Mass Merchandisers, Iowa State University). A single big box store can cause the demise of as many as 36 of our friends’ and neighbors’ local businesses (S. Mitchell, Senior Researcher, New Rules Project).

 

Community history also is at risk.  Several years ago the major drugstore chains---CVS, Walgreen’s, Rite Aid, and Eckerd---lost interest in strip malls and began to focus expansion plans on prominent downtown intersections. Often these intersections are occupied by some of the community's oldest and most significant buildings. Rather than reuse these structures, chain drugstore corporations have bulldozed numerous downtown blocks to make way for their outlets to maintain their formula. For example, an ornate 1906 Beaux Arts-style building in De Kalb, Illinois was demolished for a Walgreen’s, a 200-year-old inn in Whitpain, Pennsylvania was razed for a CVS, an historic depot in Tarboro, North Carolina was torn down while citizens groups were amid negotiations with Eckerd over its fate, and in Brownsburg, Indiana, CVS corporation demolished an entire block of historic buildings on a corner of the town's busiest intersection. One year later, Walgreen’s corporation leveled the opposite block.

 

 


While local merchants will do their best to weather economic hard times, absentee owners are far more mobile and likely to abandon a community if profit margins do not meet expectations.  This occurred in Warr Acres, a community of about 10,000 near Oklahoma City where local officials used public funds to attract Wal-Mart in 1992.  The presence of the new 120,000 square-foot store led to the demise of several existing businesses, including the local grocery store.  Six years later, Wal-Mart closed and took with it about eight percent of the community’s annual budget.  As Wal-Mart regionalizes operations with Super Wal-Marts, nearly 400 of the corporation’s discarded buildings lay vacant across the countryundefined97 newly listed within the last six months alone.  And the building in Warr Acres remains vacant.

 

Corporate mobility can devastate a community’s social fabric when it leaves large numbers of people jobless.  Other businesses dependent on these people as clients also may lay off employees or close as part of the fallout.  Alcoholism, domestic violence, and crime often accompany high unemployment.  The mere threat that large employers wield through potential mobility often forces employees and municipal officials to concede to corporate demands such as lower wages, limited benefits, or imposed relocation to areas with a lack of accessible affordable housing.

 

In addition, the more dependent on outside influences communities become, the more dollars exit the community, thereby undermining local community prosperity.  Fewer community-based businesses are employed to support other businesses due to corporate internalization of services. When deep-pocketed corporations work with developers and/or property owners, such a system favors inflated rent prices, drastically reduces the ability of community-based business owners to locate in prime central areas, and excludes the community from determining its own needs.

 

Central business districts that were home to community-based businesses catering to the basic needs of the community have seen their exchange for higher-priced boutiquesundefinedor high vacancy rates.  Often the displaced businesses are family-owned for generations, adding further community history to the loss.

 

Communities increasingly are becoming marked by stark uniformity and losing control of their ability to determine their character and future.

 

Environmental Consequences:  Increased sprawl, accompanied by increased traffic and pollution result when big box stores and malls locate at the town’s perimeter where property taxes are cheaper and zoning allows for their greater size and parking capacity.  Shopping traffic thus has become more automobile dependent and less pedestrian-friendly, increasing community health and safety issues.  Unnecessary development that merely replaces town centers already meeting community needs represents an immensely inefficient allocation of public and private resources and also destroys wildlife habitat, fragile ecosystems, and precious open space.  Sacrificing enormous land expanses for single-story big box stores and their parking lots assuredly is among the most ecologically destructive land-use practices conceived.

 

In Eugene, Oregon, for instance, a once-thriving downtown mall mostly consisting of local merchants now lays in disrepair.  Much of the town’s commerce currently is conducted in automobile-dependent strip malls on the outskirts of town.  In Boulder County, Colorado, chain stores including Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, and even a Home Depot and Lowe’s within several hundred yards of each other have opened on the outskirts of one town, as well as a new regional super-sized shopping mall not far down the highway, on former open space serving as a green belt and wildlife habitat and worsen the region’s already-compromised air quality with the additional traffic. 

 

Consequences for Freedom of Expression and the Arts:  Consolidation in the book trade diminishes literary diversity and freedom with the loss of each independent store or publisher.  While the giant book, music, or video chains often stock more titles than their independent competitors, their selection is similar in every outlet, with a few local items added.  Publishers even confer with book buyers from the Barnes & Noble and Borders chains prior to printing a book to ascertain if the chains will buy sufficient quantities.  Some authors now receive suggestions for “improvements” from the chains to increase their work’s marketability, while others simply are not published due to lack of interest by those few buyers. 

 

Overt censorship by chains also occurs, such as the Wal-Mart Corporation banning an album by mainstream musician Sheryl Crow simply for mentioning its name in an unfavorable context.  Consider also that the two largest U.S. book retailers pulled Salman Rushdie’s controversial The Satanic Verses from shelves when Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini placed a bounty on Rushdie’s life.  Luckily, numerous independent booksellers prominently featured the book, defending free speech and defying the terrorism in which the chains were complicit.

 

Services:

Advertising and Promotions -- Affiliated businesses gain a greater community presence as a group through shared advertising and promotions facilitated by HTP than they can on their own.   Such advertisements and promotions also carry an educational message describing the benefit of community-based businesses to the community. 

 

Branding – Hometown Peninsula provides a “brand” for local independent businesses.  Hometown Peninsula employs a logo that it uses and encourages IBA-affiliated businesses to use in their advertising toward creating a group identifier.

 

Economies of Scale – Through Hometown Peninsula, affiliates gain some of the advantages chains enjoy and improve their chances for successfully competing with them in the market. For example, the Hometown Peninsula “brand” and group advertising and promotions give them a greater presence than they can gain alone.

 

Knowledge/Mentoring -- Ongoing Hometown Peninsula public awareness campaigns encourage fully-informed consumer choices; people who are aware of the impacts of their spending decisions and the contribution of community-based businesses to the character and economy of their communities more often choose to do business locally. 

 

Advocacy/Clout – HTP provides a voice for independent business owners, increases community support for community-based business, and works with municipal governments to help shape policy toward preventing unfair policy practices such as subsidizing corporate competitors via tax breaks that community-based businesses do not receive.

 

Value Proposition Our members all face similar threats to their livelihoods and dreams posed by chain store encroachment.  Some share the philosophy of community support toward achieving sustainability.  The value to members occurs at several levels.  At the superficial level, members see additional means to increase a customer base through appeal to individuals who value community-based businesses.  Memberhip becomes a cost-effective means to positively affect the bottom line.  More deeply, philosophical and affiliation needs are met through commitment of self to the community and to an organization manifested to help it.  The personal need to connect with others who share and understand a philosophy is met.  Members find attractive Hometown Peninsula’s ability to provide them with some of the competitive advantage enjoyed by chains through branding and group advertising and promotion.  In addition, the connection with other like-minded people increases the potential to effect change through the impact of numbers.

 

Competitive Advantage Our ability to attract and retain members depends on the value they perceive, based on their needs.  We employ a unique model that provides independent businesses with some of the competitive advantages enjoyed by chains, making Hometown Peninsula attractive to those businesses. 





 





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