Around Town: Putting Victoria top of mind

It was one of those rare social events where no one had to worry about being told they’re engaging in too much shop talk.

It was quite the opposite Thursday night at the Atrium, where a crowd of about 140 apparently couldn’t get enough of it.

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And no wonder: They were there for the annual general meeting and to celebrate the launch of Think Local First, the new brand name for the non-profit initiative Shop Local Victoria.

Dozens of representatives from local businesses including Frontrunners, the Times Colonist, Ocean River Sports, Dig This and Maximum Express were on hand to hear Robinson’s Outdoor Store owner Gayle Robinson deliver her president’s address, and guest speaker Katrina Scotto di Carlo, co-founder of Supportland, the Portland, Ore. social enterprise that promotes shop-local campaigns.

The crowd also heard from speakers including Rod Dewar, CEO of major sponsor Island Savings, and Mayor Dean Fortin.

“You are an important part of the economic backbone of this city,” Fortin said, using feedback from one of 300 students visiting from Victoria’s twin city, Morioka, Japan to underscore his point.

“I said ‘What do you like most about Victoria?’ and a 16-year-old girl said, ‘Shopping with my friends downtown.’”

The rebranding was inspired to reflect the society’s growth from representating “just retail” to other sectors, Robinson said.

“We’re automotive, grocery, accounting, legal, newly-emerging green industries, and Think Local Victoria is a friendly way to invite people.”

The movement’s dynamic president said the objective is to encourage shoppers to spend 10 per cent locally.

“If you do, 25 per cent more of that money stays in Victoria,” she said. “So if you shop at Wal-Mart you’re not a bad guy, but buy local when you can, when it makes sense for you.”

Whether it was intentional or not, we couldn’t help notice the bottled water available was Kirkland, the Costco brand, lending credence to the movement’s philosophy of inclusiveness.

“There’s no history of independent businesses hurting big-box stores, so you’ll see a Starbucks and a Serious Coffee kitty-corner and they’re both thriving,” Robinson said.

“But it’s the independent stores that maintain the culture and character of a city.”

Di Carlo, who with her husband Michael launched Supportland after seeing empty storefronts in Portland, said she was confident Think Local Victoria could adopt at least part of her system, which offers bonus points to those who shop local, with points redeemable at member businesses using either a rewards card or a mobile-phone app.

“I want to share what it really means to be a business member in the ecosystem of a local economy,” she said.

“There are some squishy, warm, fuzzy feelings we all get from being in this ecosystem but when we look at the data it shows that it’s actually more profitable for us to engage with each other and collaborate.”

It’s that spirit of collaboration that inspired Shellie Gudgeon to become one of Think Local Victoria’s 150 members, said the city councillor, who with her husband Michael owns Il Terrazzo.

“It’s a thriving community we are witnessing here, an opportunity for all of us to work together to build a strong local community,” said Gudgeon, adding she’s happy to work with her competitors.

“Victoria as a destination needs not only one good restaurant or shop or provider of goods and services. We need an abundance. That is our strength, and we all benefit from that.”

Online: thinklocalvictoria.com

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