By Jeff Slovin, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Shortly after Julie Booras, owner of Heart & Stone Jewelry, opened her studio in Northborough, she realized she had a problem. Although her store was located in the up-and-coming shopping district near the intersection of Route 20 and West Main Street, she found it cumbersome to explain where her store was located, as the area was lacking an identity of its own. Booras invited local business owners to get together for a brainstorming session on how they could work together.
“With just a little bit of help, the area can evolve into a very cute, walkable shopping district,” Booras said.
The group’s efforts are already starting to pay off, as customers can now be seen walking into stores with a map of the “20 & West Main Shopping District” highlighting local stores.
Perhaps the most significant development to come out of “20 & West Main” was Booras’ discovery that she had a real passion for supporting the independent local businesses in the area, and that the local business owners could support each other if they had more opportunities to work together.
“It’s the small businesses that really help make a community,” she said. “They support the local causes, charities and Little League teams.”
Studies show that a dollar spent at a local, independent business returns two to three times as much to the local economy as a dollar spent at a national chain store. She also realized that kicking off a project to support the local businesses in the area was not one a single person could do alone. It would require an organization with a formal structure behind it, but the idea of setting up a nonprofit organization seemed daunting.
The turning point came when Amy Lynn Chase, owner of Crompton Collective in Worcester, and the event coordinator for Worcester Local First, stopped by Heart & Stone. Chase introduced Booras to the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting local business activities and helping communities launch and operate their own independent business alliances.
During the first organizational meeting of Northborough Local First (NLF), the group met with Joe Grafton, AMIBA’s local representative, who walked them through the process of setting up a nonprofit organization and answering the many questions the group had.
Kim Reed of The Purple Rose, and Jennifer Briggs Jenkins of J. Briggs and Co., have been working with Booras from the beginning to create NLF. Kim Schofield of L Boutique, Brian and Teri Russell of Northboro Computers, Ande Lockewood of Craftworks, Linda Bock of BeeZers, Elaine Savage of Yowza Yogurt Paradise, and John Parks from Armeno Coffee Roasters, as well as many others, have all been heavily involved in establishing the organization.
NLF’s objectives are to educate the public on the benefits of purchasing from locally-owned, independent businesses, providing a means for the business owners themselves to network and support each other, and to create a unified voice for local independent business owners to advocate for pro-local policies and procedures.
NLF is still in its infancy and has not yet elected a board. They are currently working toward recruiting members from a broad spectrum of businesses, especially non-retail businesses, who can bring a diverse set of skills to the organization. The group is continuing to grow steadily, and their next goal is to reach 75 members, which will enable them to publish a print directory of the local members.
For more information about Northboro Local First or becoming a member, visit www.northborolocalfirst.org.