La Plata County lies in the shadows of the San Juan mountains in Colorado’s Southwest corner. The bordering high desert is an archaeological gold mine, flush with Native American culture and ancient artifacts. The unique environmental and historical diversity make the area a prime destination for outdoor enthusiasts and cultural travelers, cultivating independent thinkers connected by the desire to create a progressive community.
Local First, an independent business advocacy organization, strives to maintain La Plata County’s unique heritage by supporting long-standing independent businesses while fostering a culture that promotes entrepreneurship and civic responsibility. Local First views the Localization Movement, a broader effort to encourage local engagement and spending, as more than a marketing campaign touting the benefits of shopping local. Rather, it’s the interdependence of a community — the relationships between businesses, farmers, policy makers and residents — all of whom live, grow and thrive in the same region.
Based in Durango in the heart of La Plata County, Local First was conceived in 2008 as a cooperative start-up between the Environmental Center at Fort Lewis College, the Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado and a founding set of 20 businesses. The founders focused on the intersection of a thriving independent business community and environmental sustainability.
Today serving more than 200 La Plata County independent businesses, Local First prioritizes economic development and stability. It’s a direction recent Local First director Kristi Streiffert hopes will become a stronger aspect of not just Local First but the broader Localization Movement. Streiffert laments that, while the Movement has crafted successful “buy local” messaging, it has yet to reach its potential as a greater engine for civic advocacy. Posing a question to Independent Business Alliances, Streiffert muses, “How can we, with our message that’s gone mainstream, leverage it into something even more powerful?”
Streiffert helped Local First progress in this direction through its annual coupon book, which serves as both a fundraiser and advocacy platform. The coffee table book includes glossy photographs of the community, quizzes and infographics explaining the benefits of spending locally, success stories from local businesses, a Local First member business directory and, of course, lots and lots of coupons. Unique to Local First’s coupon book is its focus each year on an issue or theme relevant to the greater La Plata community. This year, in response to nationwide and community-based discussions around affordable housing, Local First’s theme is “home.”
The theme of “home” permeates other aspects of the organization. Local First recently released a t-shirt with the word “localist” inscribed across the front. The shirt was sold at their annual Noel Night holiday celebration, and proceeds benefited the Community Emergency Assistance Coalition, a non-profit dedicated to serving homeless residents in La Plata and neighboring San Juan counties.
As Local First strives for broader social impact, it remains attuned to La Plata County business owners’ fundamental needs, earning the organization a 90% annual member renewal rate. Businesses value the opportunity to be in the coupon book — Local First sells upward of 5,000 annually. The book retails for $20, costs $74,000 to publish, including costs of personnel, website fees, design and printing, and nets the organization $31,000 annually . Owning the book is a badge of honor for locals seeking to prove their authenticity and commitment to community in a town that is a popular summer tourist destination.
Business owners recognize the direct benefits of having a robust advocate for local businesses in their community. Through unique Local First window decals, member businesses identify themselves as locally owned, appealing to locals and tourists alike. Local First generously distributes “Love Local” decals to encourage residents to support their local businesses throughout the year.
Local First’s annual Noel Night encourages Durango residents to celebrate the holiday season with an evening of local shopping and entertainment. Local First partners with a Durango-based newspaper to engage indie businesses, which pay a participation fee used to run ads in the paper and administer the event. On Noel Night, local entertainers are stationed along downtown streets, serenading the shops while they stay open late, offer special discounts and provide holiday refreshments. The event offers Durango residents a chance to mingle with each other and celebrate their local community without the summer tourist crowds. Says Streiffert, “Fall and winter are our times to reconnect as locals, and Noel Night becomes a town Christmas party.”
Entering its 11th year, Local First strives to blend its role as an advocate for independent businesses with larger community-based challenges. Local First’s website reads, “Localism is grounded in the belief that relationships matter, most. The way we interact with where we live — who we do business with — how we connect with people, other life, the land — all of it matters.” Perhaps Streiffert’s vision of a Localization Movement centered around the entire well-being of a community is not far off — in fact, Local First might be leading that charge.Print This Post