Another shop in my Portland, Oregon neighborhood is closing. It’s the second in a month! Signs of the times all over my city include sad notices: “Going Out of Business,” “For Lease” and “Tenant Relocating.” That’s why I love the idea of The 3/50 Project — a program designed to support local economies and independently owned businesses.

Businesses like Scrub,  the extraordinary cleaning supplies store whose tag line was “Everything You Need to Live Clean,” is the most recent victim of this recession. You could get the original Bon Ami there; lovely dish linens from England, Ireland and the southern U.S.; the greatest bar cloths; and tons of cleaning materials you didn’t know you needed, but wanted!  The owner is going back to Pennsylvania, but the store is closing because of lack of business. A shame. I really loved his stuff!

(Photo: Alexsandra Stewart)

Before that it was Shelly’s “Why Not?” a store with antiques and reproductions of fun stuff — clothes, toys, aprons, odds and ends of the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s.  She  left the neighborhood for an on-line presence. The wine shop is doing great, although the owner mentioned featuring more of the less expensive wines recently.

A national effort (see the news report from Lincoln, Neb., at the end of this post), the 3/50 Project asks each of us to think about three independently owned businesses that we’d miss if they were gone. That’s not hard. The wine shop, the gift boutique, the flower shop,  the great place to run in and grab a prepared and lovely meal — those are just a few I’d miss terribly.

My friend Chris Gauger — who runs a really nice consignment shop, Here We Go Again — handed out some of the 3/50 flyers at a Women in Business networking meeting several months ago. I was there and thought: Wow! Let’s keep it at home as much as possible! Another friend is holding a local 3/50 event to spread the word.

Believe me, these shops need our support. Business continues to be slow on my favorite streets in Sellwood and Westmoreland. I stop in periodically to talk with a few of the business owners with whom I’ve become friends. I’d miss all of them if they had to close up shop, and I know that even if it’s not true for them in particular, that fate is not a far-fetched possibility for some in the neighborhood.

The project’s founders suggest that we stop in, say hi, chat a minute and pick up a little something that will make someone smile.

They offer some facts from the Department of Labor Statistics:

If just half of the employed U.S. population spent $50 each month in independently owned businesses, their purchases would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. “Imagine the positive impact if three-quarters of the employed population did that?”

For every $100 spent in independently owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.

Here’s how the project works.  Each month, pick three shops. Spend $50. Save your local economy. It only takes one person to start a trend, a movement.

  • (Photo: Alexsandra Stewart)

    Could you get a bottle of wine from the neighborhood wine shop once a month?

  • Could you pick up two boxes of note cards from the little card shop down the street  once a month? (You know you want to send more cards to your friends and clients!)
  • Could you pick up a plant or bouquet once a month to drop off with someone?

I’ll bet that’s $50 or close to it! And close may count, since the merchants tell me that small sales do add up.

The project’s motto is “Saving the brick and mortars our nation is built on.” Wouldn’t it be great to be a part of that?

I love the idea that we can make a difference by doing the things we normally do but doing them a bit more intentionally. Let’s stop the proliferation of going-out-of-business sale signs!

A broker with RE/Max Equity Group, Alexsandra Stewart describes herself as “an artist, traveler, dreamer, real estate broker, reader, and gardener in no priority order.” She returned to her hometown of Portland in 2004 after a career as a diversity and organizational-development consultant, helping businesses and nonprofit organizations weather the process of change. Learn more about Stewart at her site on the real estate blog

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