Illustration by Joe Lai.   




Illustration by Joe Lai.

After the workday ended last Thursday, many Santa Cruz business owners, still clad in their work attire, conversed casually over glasses of locally-made wine to discuss their latest collaborative effort.

The meeting was an effort to spread the word about business coalition Think Local First, composed entirely of Santa Cruz small-business owners interested in showing the community the benefits of buying locally. 

At the meeting, five local banks handed out $100 checks to members of the coalitions with instructions to spend the money solely at other Santa Cruz businesses. For 30 days, business owners on the receiving ends of the checks will continue the cycle, taking their money to other locally-owned businesses.  The ultimate goal of giving out the money is to illustrate to the community how far its locally-spent dollars can go. When the one-month mark is met, Think Local First members expect that the original $500 will have snowballed into $15,000 in local commerce.

Richard Hofstetter, a Think Local First board member and CEO of one of the five local banks funding the effort, said it makes a difference to spend money locally.

“Locally-owned businesses — they make hiring decisions here, they purchase from other local, independent businesses,” Hofstetter said. “They’re the ones who coach soccer teams and donate to high schools.”

Andrea Robinson, owner of an eco-friendly Santa Cruz interior design company, said that spending locally is not only easy, but it contributes to a goal of sustainable living, unlike online shopping and driving miles to chain stores.

“Buying locally cuts down on resources of carbon that are wasted from all the energy — driving, shipping, traveling,” Robinson said.

Michael Olson, another Think Local First board member, shed some light on the question of how local business owners can maintain optimism during trying economic times.

“By supporting each other, and by encouraging the community to support its local businesses, we can limit the amount of money that leaks out of the community, survive economic hard times, and maintain the unique character of our community,” Olson said.

Olson also explained that with its sizable student body and discretionary funds available for spending, UC Santa Cruz students have the ability to positively affect the local economy by deciding to support local businesses over big-box businesses. 

“As students,” Olson said, “the world is yours for the making.”