Matt Blanchard is the man behind the bus stop ads proclaiming “Save Money at Locally Owned Businesses” in bold black font. Last quarter, Blanchard launched a student discount program in collaboration with Think Local First (TLF). TLF, a group of independent and locally owned businesses, aims to “promote and sustain economic vitality while preserving the unique character of Santa Cruz County,” as stated on their website. And although chain stores, franchises and online shopping have proliferated and infiltrated the small business community of Santa Cruz, the fourth-year math and economics double major from Cowell has found an answer. Blanchard seeks to increase local economic awareness among students through his student discount program, the first in UC Santa Cruz history.
The program is now entering its second academic quarter, and Blanchard continues his efforts to show how students can participate in the local economy and strengthen community between the university and the town. Twenty-four independent and locally owned businesses have joined him and are giving out discounts. Whether you want a buy-one-get-the-second-for-$1 coffee at Caffe Pergolesi or a 10 percent discount at Yogizmo Yogurt, all you need is your student ID card.
City on a Hill Press: You started this program when you interned with Think Local First last fall. What made you decide to continue it this quarter?
Matt Blanchard: I really like the TLF organization and it was fun working for them. Also, when I started the program I didn’t think most businesses would be interested in offering a one-month discount, and I was planning to continue it this quarter to help get more businesses involved.
CHP: Were you aware of the “think local” movement prior to interning for Think Local First and launching the program?
MB: I was aware of it in the farming industry and the farmers’ market — you know, buy-local buy-fresh stickers — and that made sense to me. But I didn’t realize how it applies to every sector of the economy and how it can make a difference in a lot of ways.
CHP: Why should students — or anyone in the community — buy locally?
MB: There are a few studies out there showing that up to two-thirds more money stays in the local economy when you buy local. Santa Cruz is a small community. We have about 3,000 new students coming in every year, and that’s a lot of money being put into the community. If they are buying from local businesses, they are going to help the entire community grow instead of just utilizing big chain stores.
CHP: Will this student discount program will help bridge the gap between the town and the university?
MB: I think it will help. Hopefully if students start participating at the stores that are offering discounts, other businesses in Santa Cruz will catch on and organize to attract more student business, and realize that there’s this large market that they can tap into.
CHP: How exactly does this student discount program break down barriers between the town and the university?
MB: A lot of locals claim that students mess up the economy by throwing a lot of money into certain areas, like bars or big chain stores, and [are] not really helping the little guys. I think having a broader list of local businesses available to students, and just getting the idea across that they can make a difference in the community and change people’s attitudes toward students, is important.
CHP: What did you hope to achieve when you created this program?
MB: I just wanted to get more awareness out about thinking local. Also, it would be cool to see people using the information that I put together to find deals to save money. There are a lot of unique businesses out there that can’t compare to chain stores, so it would be cool to save money there.
CHP: What does it mean for the community when you buy locally instead of buying from big corporations?
MB: I don’t want to make it a big fight, like I’m fighting corporations, but I think it’s just more about supporting the community. When you buy a product you should think, ‘Where’s my money going? Is my money going to go to this guy’s family that owns the store, or is it going to go to some headquarters and get redistributed through the shareholders?’
CHP: What message do you hope to get out to the students with this discount program?
MB: I want people to take a look when they see these posters. And if they’re ever shopping in these areas and want to go rock climbing, or get their bike fixed, or go to an acupuncturist — there’s a lot of different options — or get a haircut, all these different options for different discounts. Take a moment to think about where your money is going before you purchase something. It’s not like an all-or-nothing choice, either. You don’t have to only buy from the local restaurant. Just when you’re buying products, think: ‘Where’s my money going right now?’
Check out the discounts at www.students.thinklocalsantacruz.org