Andersonville Used to Illustrate Economic Impact of Indie Businesses

By Adeshina Emmanuel on January 5, 2013 8:06am 

 Sarah Jennings, 22, is a server at Taste of Heaven and a supporter of independent businesses.
Sarah Jennings, 22, is a server at Taste of Heaven and a supporter of independent businesses.
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DNAinfo/Adeshina Emmanuel

ANDERSONVILLE — Andersonville's robust independent business community charms residents and outsiders alike — but researchers and opponents of national chain stores are also enamored with the North Side neighborhood.

Andersonville is one of 10 U.S. neighborhoods in the Indie Impact Study Series used by economic consultancy firm Civic Economics as an example of how local small businesses create "a virtuous cycle of local spending." Sarah Jennings said she knows the cycle well. Jennings, 22, moved to Andersonville from Iowa in August and landed a server job at Taste of Heaven. It's a sweet deal, she said.

"Customers are giving me tips, and I'm paying rent, and then I come back to work and give them food," Jennings said, smiling.

Aside from creating jobs, such as the one helping pay Jennings' rent in the neighborhood, small business owners often live in the same community as their establishments and have alliances with other local shopkeepers to buy goods and services, said the study. National chains, on the other hand, are usually more likely to purchase goods and services from outside of the local economy.

Researchers surveyed 13 locally owned, independent Andersonville businesses between November 2011 and October 2012, and asked them to open their books to show the proportion of revenue that flowed back to the community. Restaurants returned 73 percent of revenue while retailers returned about 47 percent of revenue to the local economy. In comparison, an analysis of national retailers and restaurant chains showed them returning about 14 and 30 percent respectively.

Researchers tempt the imagination with the assessment that "a market shift of just 10 percent from chains to independents would retain an additional $1.27 billion in the Cook County economy every year."

Ellen Shepard, executive director of the Andersonville Development Corporation and the neighborhood's chamber of commerce since 1999 said that since the 2004 study, Andersonville has "used promoting and supporting local and independent business as our main economic strategy."

"That's one of the biggest reasons why in the last eight years, while other neighborhoods have become overrun with vacant stores and chain stores, we haven't," she said.

She said that "everything," — including economic research, discussions with residents and anecdotal evidence — proves "that our local independent businesses are better for the neighborhood than a chain store would be."

"We overwhelmingly prefer local small businesses to chains," Shepard said, citing past survey data that shows widespread community support for independent businesses.

The American Booksellers Association sponsored the broader Indie Impact project, which also looked at Six Corners on the Northwest Side. The Andersonville Development Corporation and indie book store Women & Children First helped sponsor the Andersonville study.

The neighborhood was also featured in a similar 2004 Civic Economics study that said businesses owned by Chicago residents keep more of their profits in the city than national chains with ownership based elsewhere; For every $100 in consumer spending at chains, $43 remained in the local economy, compared to $68 for locally-owned stores, according to the 2004 study. The study also found that a majority of residents surveyed preferred independent small businesses to national chains.

The people who work and shop in Andersonville, however, don't need numbers to illustrate the benefits of independent business as opposed to national chains.

Jennings is disenchanted with "big business taking over small businesses." National franchises do bring a lot of jobs, "but they also take away from the personal feeling of going somewhere," Jennings said.

Jamie Jimenez, 53, is an Andersonville resident and longtime customer of indie book store Women & Children First.

"I'm not big on big box shopping," said Jimenez, who coordinates the rape crisis program at YWCA. "You want to keep your business thriving. This book store is important to me."

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