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 July 1, 1999

Alliance helping locals compete against chains

BOULDER — With myriad of interests clamoring toward a vision of a Pearl Street Mall for the new millennium, the goal of the Boulder Independent Business Alliance reflects the attitude of many a Boulderite — fostering the presence of locally owned businesses over national chains.

The Alliance, or BIBA, is a non-profit organization funded by its members — local retailers, restaurants, services and other businesses — as well as community sponsors. “The idea in a nutshell was to help independent, locally owned businesses to compete,´ said BIBA Director Jeff Milchen.

BIBA — now more than 130 members strong, located all over Boulder County — began operations in January 1998.

Milchen said members gain a shared identity under the BIBA brand, as well as a shared advertising and promotions budget. Additionally, the Alliance has helped launch three similar entities in other communities, and is planning on launching a BIBA currency as well as a local investment market, an alternative to the standard option of going public on Wall Street.

The philosophy behind BIBA is quite simple: Locally owned, independent businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, and their displacement by large chains leaves a vacuum, both culturally and economically.

When local businesses are successful, Milchen said, “There’s a huge ripple effect through the entire local economy,” benefiting everyone from local landowners to local ad agencies and everyone in between. Milchen also trumpets studies performed by communities that renounced chains — the conclusion being that the presence of big retailers can have negative economic impacts on a locale. The response? 90 U.S. towns have recently rejected new chain retailers.

Another Alliance focus is on educating the consumer of the importance of patronizing locally owned, independent businesses in Boulder County. “We need to pay attention to where we are spending our dollars,´ said Milchen. “Each time we spend dollars, we’re making a vote on the future of our community.”

In terms of the situation on the downtown Boulder mall, Milchen sees a commercial district in flux, with deep-pocketed national chains increasingly contributing to the downfall of local competitors. Although hundreds of small, locally owned businesses thrive in the mall area, Milchen remains vigilant. If the city and community fail to give a preference to locally owned independents, “it’ll take a sharp downhill turn,” he said, noting that the local character is a large part of the mall’s attractiveness.

“Digger” Dan Braymiller, an owner of Sidney’s Cafe, located just one block off of the Pearl Street Mall in the Vectra Bank Building, thinks the Alliance is helping raise awareness of the problems faced by small local businesses.

“Alert the people,” he said. “Let everyone know what is going on, and they’ll make the decisions.” Braymiller feels the high cost of renting a location on the mall helps keep local businesses off of Pearl Street, but does not harbor any ill feelings toward national chains that can more easily absorb such costs. “Anyone can still move into the mall,” he noted, but, pointing to a failed Pearl Street Wendy’s, also said, “Some corporate chains have not made it on the mall.”

“It has done great things for me,´ said Braymiller, pointing to shared publicity budgets, more buying power on certain shared items (such as BIBA-logo cups), and “a real sense of community.”

Another downtown BIBA member is Nature’s Nectar, also located just one block off of the mall.

Owner Mark Ehrlich is definitively anti-chain: “There’s so much corporate garbage coming to downtown Boulder,” he opined. He thinks the city should put some restrictions on national chains, but also is pleased with BIBA’s efforts.

“They’re doing an incredible job,” Ehrlich said. He noted that an increasing number of customers are aware of the issues faced by locally owned independent businesses, and that the Alliance has helped publicize the problems. The future of BIBA: “I think it’s getting stronger,´ said Ehrlich, an optimistic opinion for the future of mom and pop in Boulder County.

BOULDER — With myriad of interests clamoring toward a vision of a Pearl Street Mall for the new millennium, the goal of the Boulder Independent Business Alliance reflects the attitude of many a Boulderite — fostering the presence of locally owned businesses over national chains.

The Alliance, or BIBA, is a non-profit organization funded by its members — local retailers, restaurants, services and other businesses — as well as community sponsors. “The idea in a nutshell was to help independent, locally owned businesses to compete,´ said BIBA Director Jeff Milchen.

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