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Local Shoppers Stay Close to Home  

By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

March 24, 2010 -- A vast majority of Santa Monicans believe buying locally is important, and many have changed their shopping habits in sustainable ways. But offering a wider variety of venues and lower prices would encourage them to spend more money close to home.

Those are among the key findings of a recent survey conducted by the Buy Local Santa Monica Campaign, a group consisting of City officials and business representatives, including the Bayside District Corporation, formed to promote local purchasing. And the group is paying close attention to what shoppers have to say, using the information to help fill the gaps in local shopping needs.

According to the survey, of 732 respondents living in Santa Monica and the surrounding area, 75 percent consider it important to buy locally. And 83 percent consider themselves to be “shopping locally” when they shop in Santa Monica.

“It’s very promising,” said Andrew Basmajian, the Environmental Outreach Coordinator with the Office of Sustainability and the Environment and a Buy Local steering committee member.

“Our message is really resonating with the public because they already get it.”
The survey was conducted during the second half of last year at special events throughout the city, including the Main Street Summer Soulstice, the Pico Art Walk, the Downtown Farmers Markets and the Santa Monica Festival. Those interviewed hailed from Santa Monica, Venice, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades and Brentwood ZIP codes.

Although not scientific, the survey gives a good indication of the shopping habits of locals and can serve as a useful tool for heightening the success of local businesses, said Buy Local steering committee members. More surveys are planned for the future.

“The purpose of the survey was to give us a glimpse into how aware our residents are of their purchase power,” said Debbie Lee, the Bayside District’s director of marketing. “This was one of the first initiatives for the Buy Local Committee. It's a start and a step in the right direction.”

Jennifer Taylor, a senior analyst with the City’s Economic Development Division said, “This will help us evaluate the effects of the campaign and where we should put our energy in terms of the messages that we should be sending in our marketing.”

Taylor believes it is important to receive these results at a time when the City is reviewing the draft proposal for a new Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) to Santa Monica’s General Plan. The document will set the development vision of Santa Monica for the next two decades. The City Council is expected to vote on it this spring.

“We’re looking at advancing our livable community, and making all the neighborhoods more of the kind of community where you can get all the services within walking distance,” Taylor said. “And part of that is about looking at transit-oriented development or mixed-use development.”

For many City and Downtown officials, the most surprising result of the survey was that the downturn in the economy had not negatively impacted people’s shopping habits much. Of those surveyed, 62 percent claimed their purchasing behavior had not changed in the past year.

And of those who said they had altered their habits, the majority listed positive changes, such as using sustainable transportation when shopping, wanting to stay closer to home, buying more eco-friendly and organic items and increasing shopping at Farmers Markets.

“We hear about the doom and gloom of the economy and how everybody’s cutting back, and so with that question we were expecting more people to say shopping habits had changed,” Taylor said.

The positive changes reflect the message being promoted by the Buy Local campaign that creating a sustainable local economy improves the environment and helps everybody in the community.


“There are all kinds of studies that have been done that support the fact that by residents spending in the community, especially with locally independent businesses, you’re keeping your dollars local,” Taylor said. “You’re also supporting your friends and neighbors and helping the environment by not making a 30-minute drive.”

Lee added, “Buy Local does more than help businesses. It supports our Sustainable City Plan. When locals use community businesses, the entire city benefits, and that makes Santa Monica more self-reliant. By creating and sustaining local jobs, more money stays in the community, making Santa Monica a more vibrant place to be.”

As for why people might choose not to buy locally, the leading factor was cost, the survey found. A need for “variety” came in second. Respondents said they would like to see more discount retail, a variety of restaurants (including fresh and healthy, ethnic and affordable) and more independent stores. Lee said the City has an opportunity to encourage those kinds of businesses to move in.

“For the first time in a very long time, rents on leasable properties are negotiable,” Lee said. “My hope is that we will see a variety of independent businesses enter the market and help fill the gaps the survey identifies.”

Current businesses can also be encouraged to expand their supply, so that they are producing the items that people want, Basmajian said.

“A lot of store owners are willing to change their practices, especially in these economic times,” he said. “If they have a product that you’d actually really want, and you’d be willing to shop there, it might be incumbent to have a word with your shopkeeper, and say, ‘Look you know the reason why I don’t come here is because you don’t carry X.”

The Buy Local campaign will let existing businesses know about some of the opportunities residents feel are not being met, Taylor said. Since cost is the main reason people shop outside the community, the campaign can help businesses get the word out that the quality of the products is higher, too, she said.

“We need to work with our businesses on communicating with the customers the importance of the values they get,” Taylor said. “They might not be the cheapest in prices, but they are getting better quality products than what you would find in the discount retailers elsewhere.”

The most popular area in Santa Monica for shopping, according to the survey, is the Third Street Promenade. Eighty-five percent of respondents said they had shopped there in the past three months. Other places where people had shopped included Main Street (65 percent), Pico Boulevard (61 percent), Downtown/Bayside (49 percent) and Montana Avenue (39 percent).

However, Buy Local steering committee members cautioned that the results of that particular portion of the survey might have been affected by where the interviews took place, since respondents likely favored those locations.

Another factor that likely skewed the results was the temporary closure of Santa Monica Place for a major remodel, forcing shoppers to travel outside the City. This came as no surprise, Lee said, since the lack of major department stores in the mix gave locals little choice.

The next survey will take place after the three-story, 550,000-square-foot mall reopens on August 6 with an open air courtyard and a dining deck with sweeping ocean views, officials note. In addition, TJ Maxx will have opened shop at the old Circuit City location on Fourth Street.

“Hopefully with Santa Monica Place reopening this summer, it’s going to enhance the shopping experience and the variety of services available, particularly in Downtown anta Monica,” Taylor said.

“That’s only going to help our businesses by having a major anchor that’s going to help local residents think local first and say ‘Hey, Santa Monica Place is open. And there are all these great businesses on the Third Street Promenade. We don’t need to leave Santa Monica, because we can get everything here.’”


“Buy Local does more than help businesses. It supports our Sustainable City Plan.

When locals use community businesses, the entire city benefits, and that makes Santa Monica more self-reliant.”
    Debbie Lee


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