Lents neighbor and neighborhood activist Cora Potter has issued a challenge to her East Portland community hoping to invigorate the hyperlocal business economy in her area.
Do everything in your “power to only spend money east of SE/NE 60th Avenue on the weekends,” Potter says posting on Facebook.
Because “small businesses aren't going to see our neighborhood as a viable market until we start spending money in our neighborhood and up the $$$$$ that changes hands here instead of taking it to Williams or Hawthorne or Alberta or East Burnside and creating the illusion that the economic strength lives there alone,” she explains.
Potter goes on to say that she believes many other Portland neighborhoods have “the reputation [of] being able to support businesses—and the businesses are flocking there in multiples.”
“There are three places to buy hand-crafted ice cream in and around Williams and Alberta,” but “when I look at the actual population and market statistics, this doesn't make sense,” Potter explains. “There's not enough people there to support that many similar businesses. So, what's going on? They're getting business from outside the neighborhood, and I'm betting that some of it is East Portlanders making a trek to get something nice because we can't get it here.”
Potter’s Challenge Is Spreading
Both the Foster-Powell and Mt. Scott-Arleta districts “are on board with the east of 60th campaign,” Potter says, adding that “a few of my friends that live further north in Hazelwood and Parkrose are aware,” hoping that the word starts to spread there.
Blogger Jeff Lynott of Foster Powell PDX picked up the challenge by writing that while his community might “begrudge” other districts “for their vibrancy and access to shopping, groceries, and many of the amenities we lack, we also contribute to the disparity on some level.”
Admitting that Foster-Powell may not be in control of “environmental, economic or infrastructural elements that determine the shape, character and prosperity of our neighborhoods,” Lynott says, “we do have a choice in where we spend our money and which neighborhood businesses to support. And to that effect, it is no wonder that restaurants thrive on Division, but have little chance of expanding to the nearby environs of Foster Road. As long as we choose to hop in our cars to eat, shop and play, our own economy will lag and sputter.”
Why Spending Within Walking Distance Is Important
Lynott believes “true advocacy comes at the local level,” and thus, Potter’s challenge is a step in the right direction to help encourage neighbors to keep their money in the neighborhood.
Potter explains that staying hyperlocal is “important because this helps businesses get the best picture of the real purchasing power of a neighborhood. Market studies can estimate ‘leakage,’ but income and spending formulas aren't always the best gauge because they assign generic values and assume everyone prefers to spend money on generic things.”
“We suffer if more of our own continue to leave the neighborhood for dining, shopping, etc.,” Lynott says. “So what we're hoping, and Cora's challenge speaks to it, is to keep our residents here and help create a vitality that hasn't been seen in a while. And that's why other neighborhoods, especially those that hover around or east of 82nd, should adopt a similar philosophy. By supporting your own neighborhood's businesses, the local economy grows and can attract more of what the community seeks but may be currently missing (grocery store, nice restaurants, or even a bank or credit union). Montavilla was very successful at doing this, and in some ways, they've done what we're hoping to do with many of the same challenges (negative perceptions, proximity to 82nd, crime, etc.).”
The Focus Is On Changing Shared Commercial Corridors, Not Individual Neighborhoods
“It's an interesting dynamic, as there are several neighborhoods that share Foster Road as a commercial corridor,” Lynott says. “However, not all these neighborhoods have been fully aligned in their efforts to make positive changes in their respective sections of Foster. So while there's strong local advocacy in Lents and FoPo [Foster-Powell], we've almost been focused on our own neighborhoods to a fault. In the end, we all share some of the same challenges, and as the Lents Town Center prospers, so too will FoPo and vice versa.”
As for other neighborhoods or business districts seeking to organize similar hyperlocal spending movements—whether the goal is to keep as much local business in a neighborhood or encourage others from outside the area to visit a district—Potter thinks “the biggest thing so far has been having a forum for information sharing. It's a lot easier to stay close to home if you can consult others to find out where to get something.”
Lynott has also been working on a new informational outlet called Foster United, which he says is “a step further in bridging the gap and advocating for all of Foster Road.”
By “blogging, reporting news, and sharing info and resources for several neighborhoods that border Foster,” Lynott says, “The goal here is to move away from a FoPo-centric format [such as the Foster Powell PDX blog] to more of a Foster-wide theme,” and “it's all about uniting the various segments of Foster. Broken down, it's simply about promoting everything local—businesses, people, goals, etc.”
In Lynott’s eyes, this promotion is all about creating interest and community, which is where he believes a hyperlocal movement starts.
“Once the interest is there, getting people and businesses involved is important,” he says.
And as one commenter on the FoPo blog highlights, “Gemini Lounge has switched all their beer taps to beers made not just in Portland, but in SE Portland. There are so many opportunities to keep it hyperlocal—just have to keep an open mind and be willing to try something new.”
“Start with yourself and urge others to support the local businesses,” Lynott advises, “and then approach the businesses to see how they would like to support each other and meet the needs of the community. Being creative helps, too. Anything from beautification of the corridor to making coupons can encourage business. Branding helps, too.”
Disclosure: Jeff Lynott is also a contributor to Neighborhood Notes.