Monday, March 1, 2010

Buying Local, Saving My Neighborhood

I arrived at my gym this morning at 6:30 am.  Unfortunately, my gym was no longer there. The building was there, just no equipment or machines.  No, it's not like I've been slacking on my workouts and somehow missed the fact that the gym went out of business.  In fact, I was here just this past Friday morning, working out. And yes, this Monday, my trainer met me in an empty room with a "free" core workout session and a card with the gym's new address. So what the h*ll happened in between Friday and Monday that made the Pico Athletic Club pick up and move two miles West, to a "safer" neighborhood? What made this great local business with surprisingly hard-core trainers abandon *my* neighborhood, a mile-long stretch of the Pico Corridor that I've grown to love for its thrift stores, modern design furnishing stores, Caribbean-infused gourmet taco shops, artery-clogging chicken-and-waffle and hot dog and greasy-spoon diner joints, strange and wonderful gift shops, organic cafes, all-natural rotisserie chicken and wine bars, french bakeries, inexpensive-but-fabulous shoe shops, surprisingly stylish-yet-affordable clothing stores, eco-centric art galleries, an independent live theater group, the diviest of dive bars and, most recently, a new sports-and-karaoke bar that serves locally sourced food.

These stores have been fighting for prominence in between the auto-body shops and pot dispensaries.  They've been fighting for the soul of a neighborhood on the cusp of moving permanently beyond its 20-year-ago gangland roots and falling backwards into the mire. They've been fighting to not be ignored by downtown politics that are more beholden to the whiter, richer power brokers a few miles West and by the major police station three blocks away that's focused on the more dire situation a mile to our East.

But what really happened is that, three weeks ago, there was a shooting nearby and, as much as my incredible diverse, socio-economically mixed, predominantly single-family/duplex homes and homeowner populated, walkable, friendly neighborhood is fiercely fighting back, fear is starting to win. What happened is that gentrification is turning back and abandoning this social experiment in true Los Angeles urban living.  What happened is that the recession is winning.  What happened is that the gangs located a few miles from my neighborhood are winning.  And all the rest of us are losing.  My gym picked up and moved two miles West after a client was held up nearby, the empty storefronts aren't finding new renters, and white flight might start to make its ugly destabilizing creep.

What also happened is that I'm getting furious.  This white girl isn't ceding ground yet.  I'm not willing to lose my affordable, walkable, quirky, unevenly gentrified, urban oasis where local storeowners really DO know my name and appreciate my business. This is a uniquely Angeleno neighborhood in its racial composition, its socio-economic mixture, and its history in and out of difficult times. And this neighborhood has more fight in it than the thugs a mile east give us credit for.

You might be asking what any of this has to do with a wedding blog. Well, money and local shop patronage is what it has to do with a wedding blog. Perhaps you've seen the 350 Project Button on my blogroll, and wondered why it's there.  It's there because the best way I know to fight back is to support my neighborhood: to shop here and live here and keep my money here so more shop owners don't decamp two miles West. It's here because, for every $100 spent at locally, independently-owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. (Only $43 stays local if you spend at a national chain and generally $0 stays local if you buy online). It's here because, if I shop local, the local shops stay and keep this neighborhood full of variety and walkable destinations. It's here because, if half the employed population spent just $50 per month at local shops, it would generate over $46.2 billion in revenue.  It's here because, I don't know if you've heard, but Los Angeles - the second most populous city in the United States - it battling with the spectre of 4,000 municipal layoffs and possible bankruptcy and needs all the local support and tax revenue and jobs and entrepreneurs it can get.

So yes, the LA Flower Market might be cheaper for flowers but, if I need any for a last-minute bouquet, I'll try a local bodega down the street first.  I might be able to find incredible shoes online, but I think I'll try Charli's first. I'm sure I could find bridesmaids gifts at the nearby Beverly Center mall, but I'll stop by Darren's before that.  I know Sprinkles makes a mean cupcake, but I'm leaning towards getting a dessert buffet from La Maison Du Pain. And yes, as amazing as the Kogi BBQ mobile truck is, I wonder if Skye's Tacos might do an even better job for taco (non-truck) catering. I'll have to ask. Because right now we have somewhere in the ballpark of $20,000 to play with for this wedding, to directly support businesses that matter as we craft a day that matters. We're going to have to spend it anyhow, so I may as well make my dollars count. Obviously price is always a factor in consideration - if the local dress shops only have $2000 dresses and I can get something online for $1000, I'll have to make some hard decisions about budget vs values - but, overall, this wedding can make an impact in a neighborhood I love.

We're putting our money where our values and our neighborhood lie.  How about you?

17 comments:

  1. Nothing to say to this except a resounding HELL YES. Well said, Becca.

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  2. great post! I really really like each person (not vendor, person) we are working with. from the really nice bbq guys to the two best friends who started making cupcakes together. thats what i love about etsy too. real people. i did buy my dress at davids bridal though, nothing local or one man business about that one....

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  3. Wow, what a great post- beautifully put.

    I started composing a post about this very subject just yesterday because I've been trying to do the same thing. It's hard, though, since the wedding is not in LA, but wherever I can spend locally I have been.

    It's fascinating to hear so much about this particular neighborhood and what it's going through right now. It amazes me that just 15 miles away in the valley I can be in a completely different world and be oblivious to what's going on on the other side of the hill. I have worked in Culver City in the past, though, and came to appreciate what West LA has to offer. I envy those who have a "walkable LA" experience and I really hope that your local stores win out in this fight.

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  4. I loved reading about your community. And Carribean infused tacos? Yum.

    For the past couple years we've been trying to do this with our food. I can't see the point of buying bananas from South America at the grocery when I can hike up to the farmer's market and buy local bananas. It's not always cost effective, of course. We pay twice as much for local free-range eggs. We buy most of our meat locally at a huge premium, so we eat less meat. We also try to make it a point to give our business to restaurants that source locally. 5 years ago that would have been impossible, but more and more places are doing this.

    With our wedding, we're trying our hardest to stick to this philosophy. It means we're spending a good portion of our budget on food, but we're ok with that.

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  5. Rock on, sista! It's somewhat of an awesome responsibility to think that the many thousands of dollars spent on a wedding can contribute to making your little corner of the world a better place by supporting people who share your values or whose work you admire. I love this!

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  6. I second jason's HELL YES. From this day forward I pledge to *try my damnedest* to shop local---in the miracle mile AND in the pico corridor. Even if it's just like you said-- looking at local options first before searching outside our neighborhoods. I had a feeling this was going on...you know with all the closed store fronts on La Brea, Pico, and Wilshire... but I didn't know it had gotten this bad. i'm with you %100 and I think this is a fantastic, eye-opening post that a lot of couples could learn a great deal from.

    and thanks for all those links to those fabulous places. the new karaoke bar has our names written ALL OVER IT.

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  7. Huzzah! Beautifully-written post. Makes me want to get right up and stride out the door and go SAVE SOMETHING. I wish it were that easy here, however. SB is a cluster**** of regional and national chains and boutiques. That leaves us with only a handful of independent dive bars, restaurants, and small clothing shops at which to fling our money. You have to want to support what you're supporting, and unfortunately, there are a lot of corporate initiatives in my town and I don't want them bankrolling my moolah. So usually, the internet gets it instead.

    Urban neighborhoods like yours are precious because they are too few and far between. It seems as if these neighborhoods aren't waxing, they're waning. Teetering on the brink of corporate gentrification or flight-generating meltdown.

    I'll be glad to help pitch in my dollars to support the stabilization of yours whenever I'm down your way.

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  8. Hi, I'm back. As soon as I pressed "post comment" I thought of this article from the Missoula Independent I read last August:
    http://missoulanews.bigskypress.com/missoula/localwashing/Content?oid=1159742

    Interesting read on corporate "localwashing" -- how companies are trying to jump on the "buy local" bandwagon by making grandiose (false) claims that their products are local.

    Of course, it isn't as much of an issue if you don't buy big brands, but it's interesting to see how this type of thinking has been turned into a marketing trend.

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  9. I'm pretty sure I used to live near where you live now, and I know exactly what you mean. It's something that extends far beyond weddings, but weddings are often an opportunity to make those kinds of decisions on a bigger scale--like 20 for 50 or 100 local meals instead or one or two.

    I live way, way far away from LA now, but the same stuff holds. My groom and I are willing to pay a little more for a muffin or coffee, because those kinds of businesses help the community. So I have a lot of respect for what you're doing.

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  10. I love this idea, especially since it really helps to support the local economy. Not only is it a "green" thing to do, but it really helps local cities to prosper.

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  11. love this - way to fight for what you want. i totally believe this is the way capitalism was meant to work!

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  12. Yay! So happy to hear that you're using your wedding $$$ in a way that matters so much to you and to our neighborhoods, and to our city! :)

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  13. As a small business owner posts like this give me hope. I had clicked on that badge on your blog ages ago and was wishing there was one for Australian businesses.

    Good on you for supporting local - it really does make a difference.

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  14. I follow a blog that tries to capture the areas that are so quintessentially New York, but increasingly being diminished by commercialization, gentrification, etc. It's really, really sad.

    Heck yeah to supporting local stores for our weddings and every day.

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  15. love this! we did this as much as possible too - trying to stay within the atwater area but also doing a bit of shopping in echo park and glendale. once you start looking it is easy to find most of the things you need in your own neighborhood :)

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  16. GOOD FOR YOU! We try to shop local, but it's difficult. Sigh.

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