BRUNSWICK — A local business group is kicking off a new campaign to encourage consumers to support independent shops and restaurants.

The non-profit Brunswick Downtown Association hopes to launch its “Buy Brunswick” program in January as part of a larger “Keep Brunswick Strong” campaign. The initiative will provide participating businesses with a window decal, poster and counter card, items BDA Executive Director Greg Farr said will help remind customers of the importance of shopping locally.

In an e-mail to BDA members, Farr said local businesses maintain Brunswick’s unique character, provide opportunities for entrepreneurs, build economic strength and “prevent displacement of community based businesses by national or global chains.”

Portland’s “Buy Local” campaign had a similar goal when it launched in 2006. Some of its founders eventually convinced the City Council to enact a short-lived ordinance that prohibited national chain stores and restaurants from opening downtown. Proponents argued that national chains gobbled up market share with low prices that local shops couldn’t match, thereby forcing independent businesses to close.

That theory won some Brunswick believers following the closing of Bookland at Cook’s Corner shortly after Border’s opened across the street. Some residents have blamed last year’s closing of Grand City Variety on the sprouting of chain stores, too.

Despite those examples, Farr said the BDA’s “Buy Brunswick” doesn’t want to pick a fight with chains and so-called “big-box” stores.

“There’s no value in disparaging a competitor,” Farr said. “It’s the quality of service that local businesses provide – that’s what you want people to focus on. Big boxes have a purpose and they’re here to stay. There’s no need to attack them.”

A majority of BDA board members also supported a controversial, unsuccessful proposal for a Walgreens store in Brunswick. The project divided the Town Council last year, and may have played a role in the election of two councilors who campaigned against the project.

One of them, Councilor Debbie Atwood, said she supports the BDA’s “Buy Brunswick” campaign. Atwood acknowledged that other buy local initiatives have been created to combat chain stores, but she said Brunswick’s program learned from their growing pains. 

“This is a positive campaign,” Atwood said. “It’s not just lip service. It promotes the idea that shopping at local businesses keep dollars and jobs locally.”

“It’s to our benefit that other towns have laid the groundwork so we don’t end up in a quagmire,” she added. “I really like this. … It’s about strengthening the town and our local economy.”

Atwood said she is also encouraged that the “Buy Brunswick” campaign was borne from two different groups, the BDA and Atwood’s “creative economy” group, which includes businesses like the Frontier Cafe. She said creative economy participants were discussing a buy local campaign, only to learn Farr and the BDA were doing the same. 

Farr said “Buy Brunswick” wasn’t just about the BDA and its membership.

“This about every business and independent shop,” Farr said. “It’s about inclusion.”

Farr said the BDA hasn’t yet settled on a fee for participants, but he said, “it should be so low that nobody has to think about it” – probably between $5 and $10.

He said response to the campaign has been positive, and added that such a program was frequently suggested by respondents to a recent BDA survey asking what Brunswick should do to weather a difficult economic climate made worse by the upcoming closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station. 

“The focus is to keep Brunswick strong at a time of significant change,” Farr said. 

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or [email protected]

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