Celebrate Independents Week!

While national Independents Week is just six years old, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas encapsulated a key theme of the event in 1954, half a century before its inception: "When a nation of shopkeepers is transformed into a nation of clerks, enormous spiritual sacrifices are made."

Independents Week Vermont Banner
Communities use banners, posters, and other advertising vehicles to promote Independents Week.

As Americans get ready for the annual Fourth of July celebration of our independence as a nation, Independents Week provides an opportunity to make explicit what Douglas suggests. The opportunity to run one's own business and be self-reliant is a key aspect of the American ideal of freedom, but one that is undermined as more and more business sectors are dominated by large corporations and former shopkeepers are relegated to corporate employees.

As online shopping and big-box centers encroach on vibrant downtowns and neighborhood business districts, the public spaces in which democracy flourishes are threatened along with entrepreneurial opportunities. I was inspired to hear at the 2010 National Main Street Conference how many people recognize this essential role of our Main Streets and are working to bring it to the forefront.

Independents Week, facilitated through free tools, templates, and support from the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), gives you the opportunity to promote the virtues of your local businesses in a way that resonates emotionally and may reach an audience uninterested in listening to the economic arguments for local ownership or the environmental benefits of pedestrian-friendly districts, for example.

Independents Week Austin AdFor Main Street programs, it's also a prime opportunity to remind people about another benefit of independents: they're essential if you want to make your town a true destination. As large chains expand relentlessly, communities offering services and shopping and dining experiences unique to their identity will be the ones most likely to attract visitors within their region.

Public education, including elected officials and civil servants, is at the core of Independents Week. In some towns, supportive city councilors previously have engaged in the "Indie Challenge," friendly competitions to do their week's spending at locally owned businesses.

Lincolnton, N.C., stretched Independents Week into a two-week promotion and won an award for "Best Downtown Special Event" from the North Carolina Main Street Center. They've employed both the Indie Challenge and a "Find Your Independents" scavenger hunt to spread the message with fun.

Communities and businesses nationwide have secured municipal and gubernatorial proclamations, showing officials how they can walk their talk by supporting policies that promote strong Main Streets and help keep opportunities for local entrepreneurs alive.

Many participating groups host concerts, dances, microbrew festivals, and other events to ensure that education is accompanied by equal parts of fun. The "Find Your Independents" activity can also engage youth in a purposeful game. Some have used Independents Week to kick off a long-term Buy Independent / Buy Local campaign.

Independents Week Santa Fe AdCommunity and national pride is a distinguishing feature of Fourth of July celebrations, and these emotions can be harnessed to support your goals for a more vibrant Main Street. The most successful public education campaigns by Main Street advocates lead residents to two key conclusions. One is to identify ourselves as the kind of people who support downtown and independent businesses. The second is to identify our hometown as "the kind of community" that supports those institutions.  

Independents Week offers many tools to tap into residents' civic pride with both logical and sincere emotional appeals. Seize the opportunity to engage them in their role as consumers and as citizens to advance your work and sustain a downtown worthy of local pride. Convince folks that their downtown is the greatest around and they just might take responsibility for its success!

Visit AMIBA's Independents Week web page to view or download free templates for various Independents Week materials or start with this primer (pdf), which summarizes potential activities.