Monday, January 12, 2015

Labors of 'localism' can lead Falls back
I think all of our children need to learn the word “localism” and by the time they reach middle school it shouldn’t be an unfamiliar word in their vocabulary. Localism is the idea of prioritizing the local.
For us, it’s a “Niagara Fallsian” philosophy of investing in our local businesses, advocating a local control of government and promoting our local history, culture and identity. It’s the posture and attitude that we need to support each other. Whether it’s supporting our staple businesses like Richardson’s Fast Food Deli on Highland Avenue or Steve’s Automotive on Main Street, there is a pride of ownership and personal service local businesses offer that is rarely seen from BIG business. Why? Because local businesses like Richardson’s and Steve’s are people we see every day and there is a different sense of community and accountability in providing products and services to the people you see every day.
When it comes to problem solving, BIG businesses are more likely to route you through a labyrinth of representatives who tell you, “There’s nothing we can do about it” as opposed to local businesses who ask you, “What can we do to resolve this?” I don’t mind trying to contact a corporate headquarters in a different state or country, but I’d rather just talk to the owner face to face.
I recently had an opportunity to visit two new local businesses in the Pine Avenue City Market — Maple’s Restaurant that offers a southern-style menu and a Sunday’s Best buffet and The 755 Restaurant and Lounge that specializes in authentic Lebanese and Italian-American cuisine. I actually discovered one, sitting inside of the other. While out to lunch at Maple’s Restaurant with local author/business owner D. Scott, we met Hanna; the daughter of The 755 owner who was also there purchasing lunch. This was localism at its best; maximizing the circulation of each dollar before it leaves our community. Since then I’ve patronized both establishments and in addition to the excellent food, I’m glad I no longer need to drive out of our city to get it.
Over the last five years with well over a dozen businesses closing in the city of Niagara Falls, many wonder how we can increase sustainable business development here. While local support is vital, one component of localism is the creation of ‘cooperatives’ [coop] or ‘co-operatives’ [co-op]. Co-ops are businesses that are owned and managed by the people who use its services [a consumer cooperative], the people who work there [a worker cooperative] or by the people who live there [a housing cooperative]. It’s the idea of shared ownership, work and financial responsibility of that business and co-ops are one of the fast growing successful business models reshaping local living economies today.
Barbershops and hair salons have been running informal co-ops for years. Family owned Italian restaurants, Chinese variety shops and Arab corner stores have been operating like co-ops too. Gui’s Lumber & Home Center, which has remained in business all of these years, is a co-op. Living in a state with some of the highest taxes in the country and a city/county with a tax-exempt casino and BIG businesses that local business owners must compete with, this has created a unique set of socioeconomic challenges. 
Our city of Niagara Falls can be one of the premier local living economies in the state with the right community support and people in leadership positions that have the shared vision, plan and work ethic to meet those challenges. This is not just a noble idea. It’s a commitment to empowering each other with the cooperative economics to thrive. 
If not us, who? If us, when?

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