Buying Local Is Sustain-a-Bull in Durham

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Last fall Durham, North Carolina, aka Bull City, got its first Local First organization – Sustain-a-Bull. Launched by The Regulator Bookshop’s Tom Campbell, the organization has been steadily expanding. It now hosts two annual Independents Week celebrations and promotes the interests of its members with posters, fliers, and bumper stickers bearing the slogan “Sustain-a-Bull. Shop Independent Durham” featured next to a retro bull.

“In the last 10 years, Durham has changed rapidly and for the better in terms of downtown renewal,” said Sustain-a-Bull organizer Amy Campbell, the daughter of Tom Campbell. “There’s a greater focus on arts and music and local culture. I think there is a fair amount of local pride in living in Durham. We’re trying very much to tap into that.”

The Durham group, which is an affiliate of the American Independent Business Alliance, began with 20 retailers and is now open to service industry businesses, including restaurants and music venues. It has been adding one or two businesses a week and has about 35 members.

“We’re currently trying to expand our membership and get the word out among business owners,” said Amy Campbell. “We had a great response when we first launched. A lot of people wanted to join, and now we’re ready to expand membership. We’re expecting to have somewhere between 60 to 100 businesses.”

Sustain-a-Bull is looking to capitalize on the city’s strong local food movement. While customers at The Regulator have been steeped in the importance of shopping locally thanks to the efforts of Tom Campbell, others “haven’t necessarily made the connection to shopping locally to sustain the local economy,” explained Amy Campbell. “Durham has a unique local culture. We’re trying to tie the connection between shopping locally and all the things people love about Durham.” As part of its efforts, Sustain-a-Bull hosted an independents week celebration in November, at the start of the holiday shopping season, and plans are in the works for a second Independents Week this summer, around the Fourth of July holiday.

To help spread the Local First message beyond the bookstore, Tom Campbell created a brochure based on statistics from a Civic Economics study in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to show that just a 10 percent shift in customer dollars from chain businesses to local independent businesses would result in up to 800 new jobs in the Durham area. The brochure is available for download from Sustain-a-Bull’s website.

It was after talking with BookPeople’s Steve Bercu, president and founder of the Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA), and looking at organizations such as North Carolina’s Asheville Grown, a campaign to boost sales during the 2009 holiday season that grew into a permanent coalition of local businesses, that Campbell decided to launch Independent Durham.