Story By Valerie Carr
Photography By Wendy Hunt
On a rainy March afternoon, a bustling downtown Southport has shoppers braving the weather. With warmer days approaching and recent efforts to revamp downtown, this Brunswick Countytown is fighting against the economic downturn. Part of this effort is a campaign called The 3/50 Project, which urges residents to buy local instead of online or at big-name chains.
Some Southport and Oak Island business owners have signed onto the campaign to help generate sales for their stores. Bullfrog Corner and Cat on a Whisk are just two of the many businesses that rely on their faithful clientele and a campaign like The 3/50 Project to stay afloat.
Susie Farley, owner of Cat on a Whisk, is fully supportive of the campaign. “It’s a great grassroots movement that is put in the forefront of people’s minds,” Farley says.
Through flyers and media exposure, The 3/50 Project has residents re-thinking where they spend their money each month. With about 60 local business participating thus far, and support from the Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Southport, Quiznos Subs and Coastal Carolina Landscape, Southport comes together during difficult times.
The 3/50 Project is a clear-cut approach to supporting brick-and-mortar businesses. It was coined a year ago in Minneapolis by independent stationery store owner, Cinda Baxter. After discussing her idea on a blog and receiving hundreds of emails, Baxter launched the website and The 3/50 Project grew into a nationally recognized campaign.
It works by targeting small business owners and providing tools for becoming successful. To become involved with the project, business owners must first sign on as a participant at the project’s website. After agreeing to the terms and conditions, free flyers can be downloaded and then distributed.
The free flyer, which is the project’s main strategy, reads: Pick 3, Spend $50, Save Your Local Economy. The message is a push to reduce online shopping by urging residents to pick their three favorite local and independently owned shops and spend a total of $50 dollars there each month. In turn, this practice could lower the tax burden and save local businesses.
Cities and towns in every state have signed on to the campaign. Southport and Oak Island have recently taken the leap, as have a large number of Wilmington and Carolina Beach participants. Hundreds of other North Carolina stores have joined the cause as well and are listed on the project’s website.
Karen Sphar, executive vice president of the Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce, hopes The 3/50 Project will help residents become more aware of what’s in the area. Southport stores like Bullfrog Corner pride themselves in continuing a neighborhood store mentality. Beth Yeisley, a Bullfrog Corner employee, believes people can spend their money all around town and not just in one place. “These local stores have more flavor and more uniqueness and if you want something creative and original this is where you want to shop,” Yeisley says.
According to The 3/50 Project’s website, for every 100 dollars spent at locally owned independent stores, 68 dollars comes back to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. But if you shop online, nothing comes back. “There’s a cost to your local community for buying online,” said Sphar.
While shopping online or at big-name chains doesn’t help out local economies, it may be cheaper. The 3/50 Project and other similar campaigns are often criticized by shoppers who look for bargains. While some critics may think local stores are overpriced, many of them work hard to keep prices low.
“As a little kitchen store I sometimes beat the big guys,” says Farley of her store’s prices. “I beat Williams-Sonoma every day.”
With a never-ending conflict between buying local and buying for value, it’s a matter of reaching across to consumers and guaranteeing that they’re happy with their purchases. Farley said that a customer once brought in a pan four years after buying it and left with a new one. “You can buy it somewhere else but without that kind of guarantee,” Farley says.
Farley, a major proponent of The 3/50 project, hopes to get more flyers up in her store and around town. She says she believes it’s the business owner’s responsibility to get the word out, and after that it’s up to the customer what to do.
“Sometimes it’s a personal choice whether they’re going to keep their hometown alive or a corporation alive,” Farley says.
Whether you’re a critic or a fan of The 3/50 Project, store owners are working hard to spruce up their shops for customers and implement the recent campaign. Yeisley says she hears positive comments from customers and is surprised at how in-tune people are with the media. “I think people want to keep their money in town,” she says.
Sphar said the chamber of commerce, which has reached out to many local businesses, supports the project. “The bottom line is that if our residents don’t shop locally, the stores will close,” says Sphar.
Participating businesses in the 3/50 Project
A Bee In Our Bonnet
Adventure Company, The
Aflca – Herb Linesburgh Agent
Animal House Of Movies Dvd Rentals & Sales
Art Shack Studio & Gallery
Boo & Roos
Books N’ Stuff
Brandall Promotionals, Apparel & Awards
Brunswick County Airport
Cape Fear Airworks
Cape Fear River Company
Carolina Business & Tax Advisors
Cat On A Whisk
Celtic Harp, The
Christmas House, The
City Of Southport
Coastal Carolina Landscape
Coastroad Hearth & Patio
Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Realty
Dl Bianchi Brickyard Supply
Dosher Memorial Hospital
Dosher Hospital Flea Market
The Garden Center
The Grape & Ale
Johnson & Moore, Pa
Knott’s Landing Café & Grill
Lantana’s Gallery & Fine Gifts
Live Oak Café’
Magnolia Gifts & Antiques
Northrop Antiques & Mall
Ruth T. Bigham Oak Island Senior Center
Olde Southport Village Shops
Old Ferry Seafood
Port City Java
Renee’s Jewelry & Design
Ricky Evans Art Gallery
Seaway Printing & Mail
State Port Pilot
Taylor ’s Cuisine Café & Catering
Wine Rack, The
Zeetlegoo’s Pet & People Store