As of June, the City of Madison became a new member of Dane Buy Local, an organization focused on enhancing the quality of life in Southern Central Wisconsin by promoting and supporting local businesses.
The mission of the organization is to educate the public about shopping locally, promote their members, products and services and collaborate with other local businesses to strengthen the local economy, according to DBL’s Executive Director Colin Murray.
A majority of the 600 businesses within DBL are found within Dane County, and most are located in Madison or the nearby suburbs, Murray said.
“Our goal is to give the local guy a shot,” Murray said. “You’re not shipping your money to Arkansas, Sears or Walmart. That money will stay in the city and the local economy.”
As a leading organization within the American Independent Business Alliance, DBL accepts a wide variety of businesses, Murray said. Retail and food-related companies are well-represented, but the majority of members are business-to-business industries.
The city government, specifically Mayor Paul Soglin, has been greatly supportive of their initiatives, said Murray, and has identified DBL as a major driver of Madison’s economy.
“Dane Buy Local is a vital advocate for locally-owned businesses in our community,” Soglin said in a statement. “It has been a partner with the city on key efforts to make Madison a great place for independent businesses and diverse entrepreneurs.”
While some are thrilled about the city’s inception into the organization, others are more skeptical.
University of Wisconsin professor and Community Development Specialist, Steven Deller, said while Madison’s buy local market is slightly larger than most communities, in general, buy local programs have marginal impacts on people’s shopping behavior.
“Too often I have seen communities pursue ‘buy local’ initiatives thinking it would save downtown and they fall short,” Deller said. “It’s not that simple, and too often people approach it as a magic bullet — it is not. It can be part of a more comprehensive set of strategies.”
Deller added the university should be factored into the equation as well, to encompass the specialized group of shoppers that patronize the downtown area.
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Murray agreed DBL has had trouble focusing on student-shoppers. Online shopping, such as Amazon, is their biggest competition. The immediacy and wide-range of products makes it difficult to keep up, especially with student-shoppers.
Despite challenges, DBL has made strides within the community. Murray referenced Soap Opera, a local business which has embraced DBL’s initiatives and benefited from their partnership.
“This is really a partnership between Dane Buy Local and the City of Madison to work together in order to build a local economy which benefits all of us and allows for a nice quality of life,” Murray said.