The first memory I have of Brad Mizer is from a student council retreat during my freshman year of high school. I was in a canoe with some other girls far enough away from shore that swimming back wasn’t in my plans, but close enough that Brad and some other boys thought they could swim up & tip us over. I’m pretty sure they were unsuccessful because if they had flipped us, I probably would still be mad about it or I would have drowned.
I may not remember the details of that interaction, but I do remember the first time I really started to understand what a difference a local company makes. Back then, I don’t think any of us kids had any real idea of what it meant to “shop local.” We knew what businesses our classmates’ families owned, but even then, I don’t think we knew the impact they had on us.
And then… there was the billboard. Brad was a year older and much too cool to speak to me, but I remember seeing his then girlfriend on a billboard after she won “Junior Miss” (back when it was still Junior Miss). It was on Depot Hill long before that board turned digital. Initially, I didn’t know enough about Brad to know that his family owned the board, so I didn’t know that he was responsible for it, but somehow that information made its way through school. I thought it was so neat he could do something like that.
It was a great illustration of what you can do when you own a business and do not have to maintain strict corporate standards. I had no idea this concept would have a huge impact on me later in life.
I’ll admit I didn’t really understand exactly how important it was to “shop local.” I always saw it as a campaign to help the small business compete with the bigger box stores. It wasn’t until I started working for a small business in a corporate controlled industry that I really started to grasp exactly what “shop local” means to the community and the individuals behind those businesses.
After that canoe incident, I don’t have any meaningful memories of Brad, so when I knew I’d be back in Athens for work, I never could have imagined we’d be working together. Then, we found ourselves as members of the board for the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce. It was after one of these meetings that a conversation was started about how we could work together on an event.
The summer series isn’t a new concept for us. Using the summer series as a fundraiser was absolutely a new concept. However, with the cost of the movies, it is nearly impossible for us to donate all of our ticket sales to charity. This is where East-West Billboards fit perfectly. Sure, they could write a check to the Y for the amount of the movies, but we had the opportunity to turn their investment into more.
With East-West’s help, we secured 4 movies for a summer series. The important difference between this and years past was that ALL ticket sales would be donated to the YMCA. If someone walks in and hands a charity a $2 bill, they will spend more time admiring the $2 bill than spending it, but if we could all come together and spend $2, we could make a meaningful donation.
Now, I’m sure this whole post feels a little all over the place. First, we’re talking about canoes and now we’re talking about movies. What does any of this have to do with shopping local?
Remember earlier I mentioned the billboard on Depot Hill? That freedom of control over your own business is why being locally owned is important. Locally owned businesses have the ability to decide what they can be involved with, where they donate their time and money, and what they say. When you have a corporate standard to uphold, your hands are tied. If the corporate office says “no” there’s nothing you can do. East-West did not have to do paperwork and request permission to be involved with this type of event. Athens Movie Palace did not have to ask anyone if it was ok to use the theater in this way. Brad and Kavitha stood in the Chamber office and said “ok, let’s do this.” Right then and there it was decided. It was so quick the rest of the room probably didn’t even know it had happened.
The second part of this is that “locally owned” concept. We don’t want to make improvements in other places when it is in our interest to improve the things that affect us. Corporations are generally more giving to their host cities. They do this to improve the lives of their executives but also as a thank you to the city that probably offers them huge incentives for staying. On a smaller scale, our locally owned businesses are doing the same thing. I work out at the Y. I love the community I have there. I look forward to spin and walking into the room and seeing my new friend Lisa and my cheerleader Ed. I love that David comments on the progress of my injury healing. If I had to send our money to a corporation, I might be helping a YMCA in a town I can’t visit.
East-West Billboards and Athens Movie Palace are two locally owned businesses, but let’s break down the chain of events that led to us hosting the summer series.
First, YOU (yes, you) shopped at a local business. Maybe it was the one that knows you by name when you walk in and misses you when you’re gone. Maybe it was the one that answers your phone call when you have a question instead of sending you to an automated call center. Maybe it’s the one that knows your order when you walk in and has it ready before you sit down. The important thing is that you shopped at a local business. Your money went towards paying their business expenses like light bills and advertising.
Second, this local business you supported went to East-West Billboards with the money you spent. A new billboard campaign was launched. The money East-West collects from the advertising campaign helps them pay their bills and contribute to community events like the summer series.
Third, the money we get from East-West Billboards makes it possible for us to donate all of the ticket sales from the summer series to a charitable cause. It allows us to spend more on advertising locally so that everyone knows about the event increasing our impact. Without the pressure of paying for the movies we can continue offering the movies to you for $2. We have now created an opportunity for you to make a HUGE difference by doing something you were going to do anyway.
Fourth, the money we collected from the ticket sales greatly exceeded the initial investment from East-West Billboards meaning that they would not have been better off donating that money to the YMCA. You also could not have made as big of an impact by donating your $2 to the YMCA, but when we combine efforts, we were able to raise over $2000. Because you chose to stay local and support the local movie theater, we were able to pay our staff that all live locally and will start this process all over again by spending their paycheck in our local community.
It is our hope that by working together on events like this, we can inspire others to be proud of our community and look for ways to help make it better for all of us. Maybe our event will enrich our community and lead a child that attended to stay here as an adult because we have instilled in them a sense of pride for McMinn County. Maybe the child that stays here will reconnect with someone who felt motivated by our event and together they create something bigger.
The ultimate message here is that shopping local does matter. You should look at each purchase you make at a local business as a down payment on the bigger things you want for our community. Maybe you want your child to have an afterschool ride to the YMCA in a reliable and safe vehicle. You can’t buy the Y a car, but you can invest in the businesses that can help. Sometimes, it’s as simple as spending $2 at a local movie theater that turns into a $2125.88 donation that the YMCA will use to help pay for a new van. Every choice we make can lead to big changes.