The local business trolley awaits passengers

November 25, 2011
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Even while Michigan consumer confidence as surveyed by the University of Michigan had declined at mid-year, surveys among businesses show anticipation of stemming that economic negative. The reality of the economic picture certainly hinges on consumer action since September, and especially in the next 30 days as the year closes.

A subset of the interest will be the result of campaigns organized to assist the operating profits for small businesses. Local First has coordinated several opportunities for regional residents to participate in “buying local,” and most of the more than 550 Local Fist members are small businesses. (Locally owned Grand Rapids Business Journal/Gemini Publications is a member of Local First.)

As is true in the larger business community, useful ideas or products are only as good as the attraction of a customer base. If local retail businesses are to see some fruit from long holiday hours, it will be because Business Journal readers respond to the Local First campaign and participate in the holiday events encouraging a “buy local” philosophy. The campaigns also are rightly referred to as sustainability.

The Michigan Retailers Association member survey of seasonal sales expectations in October was far better than anticipated. Almost nine of 10 Michigan retailers anticipated increases of more than 5 percent over 2010. The seasonally adjusted performance index was up 57.9 percent from August’s 55.0 and the July index at 53.6. Index values above 50 percent indicate an increase in overall retail activity.

Bloomberg Businessweek.com also noted a national elevation in confidence, based on the U-M research, and noted such a report was unexpected. Nationally, the index was expected to drop a point-and-a-half, but instead climbed from September’s 59.4 to 60.9 last month.

The Business Journal’s own holiday shopping poll, at grbj.com, was a bit more ominous, with 51.5 percent of respondents indicating they would be spending about the same as last year and 42.4 percent favoring less spending. Only 3 percent said they would spend more during this holiday season than last year.

Corporate America this year jumped on the bandwagon of hailing small businesses, providing the benefit of national hype for a Small Business Saturday aimed at Thanksgiving weekenders. So, too, did such giants as American Express, which offered points and discounts for debits to small businesses, and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Several local impact events are planned, beginning Dec. 1 when Uptown businesses collaborate with local stores in Eastown, East Fulton, Wealthy Street and East Hills. The group arranged for trolley service among neighborhoods. The Downtown Alliance, Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority and local retailers also aligned to create “Holly Jolly GR,” which begins at 5 p.m. Dec. 2, and extends to Uptown and Breton Village Saturday, Dec. 3. Some idea of the impact of such collaboration is in the number: DDA retail specialist Anne Marie Bessette, noted 46 “non-restaurant” retailers are banding together for the events.

Its success will depend on the number of people who jump on that trolley.

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