A small budget doesn’t stop StayLocal  from making a big impact on New Orleans’ entrepreneurs. The secret? Collaboration. Partnering with community, state and national allies, StayLocal unites a chorus of diverse voices to advocate pro-independent business initiatives – and they’re being heard.
Since inception, StayLocal has recognized the value of partnerships in activating change. These principles stem from its parent organization, the Urban Conservancy , founded in 2001 by Ed Melendez and Geoff Coats to counter the wave of encroaching box store development in New Orleans. The Urban Conservancy united the small business community along Magazine Street, a prominent historic and economic corridor, to oppose collectively a Super Walmart’s construction. Though Walmart still came to town, the campaign evolved into an Independent Business Alliance that moved to proactive organizing on behalf of local entrepreneurs and small business owners.
To avoid being pinned with an anti-WalMart image, the Urban Conservancy formed StayLocal to foster a local and statewide culture that supports and advocates for independent businesses. The organization hired its first full-time employee and Executive Director, Dana Eness, in 2006. To date, StayLocal boasts 2500 member businesses and a dozen community partners, including local and national organizations.
Through collaborative dialogue and advocacy, StayLocal has shifted seemingly immovable state and local systems to better support indie business owners. They formed the Small Business Roundtable to tackle complex issues crossing multiple sectors in the community, with the help of business owners and providers, university leaders, government officials, real estate brokers and other key stakeholders. Through the Roundtable, StayLocal is working with the One Stop Shop, New Orleans’ business licensing and permitting office, to improve relationships between the small business community and the City by streamlining and simplifying procedures for small businesses.
StayLocal interacts frequently with local and state government, recognizing the symbiotic relationship between a robust independent business community and a supportive government. “It’s StayLocal’s role to make sure our local government hears and understands the opinions and concerns of the small business community, knows why these business are important, and works to support them. We consider our local government an ally,” explained Meredith Cherney, StayLocal’s Program Manager, in highlighting the importance of working in tandem with government.
Local government has proved a valuable partner in StayLocal’s works to support small businesses still struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As recovery from the hurricane’s destruction continues, New Orleans’ massive road construction projects disrupt streets throughout the city. Businesses located along and around the projects tend to struggle throughout the construction process. In response, StayLocal worked extensively with the city government to develop a comprehensive Road Construction Toolkit  to help businesses successfully weather the periods of upheaval.
Remaining true to StayLocal’s commitment to community partnerships, the Toolkit compiles an extensive collection of resources, including contact information, best practices and case studies, to help New Orleans businesses survive construction projects outside their doors. Dane Buy Local , a fellow American Independent Business Alliance affiliate based in Madison, Wisconsin, helped connect StayLocal with the City of Madison, which had created a similar resource for local businesses grappling with nearby construction projects.
As part of the Louisiana Coalition for E-Fairness, StayLocal worked in partnership with Greater New Orleans, Inc., the Louisiana Retailers Association and Louisiana businesses to close a sales tax loophole that benefitted online retailers at the expense of Louisiana’s business community. Existing law allowed online retailers without a physical presence in the state, such as Amazon.com, to avoid collecting sales tax.
The Coalition worked at the state level to draft and advocate legislation to permit Louisiana to collect sales tax from remote retailers with state affiliates or require retailers to inform customers how much sales tax they owe at the year’s end. Economics research firm Civic Economics estimates that in 2015, Amazon alone avoided $68.1 million in Louisiana sales tax.
The bill failed its first time around, vetoed by past Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal after passing unanimously through both houses of the State Legislature. But as a testament to the Coalition’s persistence, the bill passed in 2016 under the state’s new governor, John Edwards. As a result, Amazon started collecting sales tax in Louisiana in January, 2017.
As StayLocal poises itself to remain a dominant independent business advocate at both the local and state level, it does so by cultivating grassroots partnerships and keeping a pulse on the heartbeat of New Orleans. Says Meredith Cherney, “StayLocal recognizes the strong ties between business and community–you can’t work with one without working with the other.”