By Caitlin Rushton
City News Reporter

It’s easy to catch the fever of excitement at the quarterly meeting of the Santa Cruz grassroots organization Think Local First.

Founded less than a year ago, Think Local First consists of a half-dozen local business owners who want to spread the word about the importance and benefits of spending locally.

At the Oct. 16 mixer, held at the Bay Federal Credit Union in Capitola, community business owners came out to support each other and stress the importance of keeping Santa Cruz money within the county’s boundaries.

Over a buffet of food and drinks provided by local restaurants and cafes, the gathered entrepreneurs listened to speeches about the importance of maintaining a strong local economy — especially while the economy on a national level is unstable.

“There’s an importance of shopping, dining, and banking locally, especially in these uncertain times,” said Carrie Birkhofer, president and CEO of Bay Federal. “It’s about local people helping other local people.”

It is important to build trust within the community, said Peter Beckmann, co-chair of Think Local First and owner of Beckmann’s Bakery.

“If we go to a local food source, I’m confident my food is safe,” Beckmann said, “which is something I’m not so sure of nowadays.”

Spending locally supports the small businesses that add flair and flavor to Santa Cruz while also promoting the economic wellbeing of the area.

According to the organization, for every dollar spent at a local business, 45 cents comes back to the community, compared to 13 cents from chain stores.

“We’re not here to tell people not to shop at Costco,” said Michael Olsen, co-chair of Think Local First and master of ceremonies for the evening. “We’re here to tell people, before they make their decision, to think local first.”

Before the holiday season kicks in is a crucial time to spread awareness, said Stephanie Wilks, director of business development and marketing at Physicians Medical Group.

According to many members, it is the friendly atmosphere of Think Local First that makes the organization so special.

“There’s not that pressure to sell, sell, sell like there is at other chamber mixers,” said Gayle Peabody of Surfside Signs. “[Other chambers] try to sell themselves instead of getting to know you.”

At one point during the presentation, Olsen and two other founding members joined arms and, singing to the tune of “Give Peace a Chance,” crooned in three-part harmony: “All we are saying, is think local first.”

“When we’re alone, it gets frightening,” Olsen said. “But when there are hundreds together, like we are tonight, we’re frightening.”