Cambridge is experiencing economic change, with exciting economic growth, but with increasingly prominent barriers to entry for small businesses. Today’s small business owners face a daunting array of challenges. Retail businesses are closing across the country. In Cambridge, an unstable and unaffordable commercial rental market compounds the problem.
However, a thriving small business sector is vital to Cambridge’s sense of self. Small business ownership has historically been part of the immigration story. Entrepreneurship can be an important tool for individuals and families to grow assets and exit poverty. Entrepreneurs generally have higher incomes than their peers and are more likely to invest in their children’s educations. Customers, in turn, benefit when the businesses they frequent are mindful of their neighbors and invested in the success of local communities. As such, efforts to invest in entrepreneurship are also investments in the next generation and in a community’s future.
We believe that Cambridge residents and visitors want to shop local, to vote with their dollars, and help build community.
Cambridge Local First is an emerging leader, working innovative ideas to build shared prosperity, social equity, and cultural richness in Cambridge. Cambridge Local First’s mission involves providing these potential customers with the information required to act on their values. Cambridge Local First promotes the awareness that when one first shops local, one helps create opportunities for immigrants, minorities, and others seeking a secure economic future, the way that our ED’s Greek grandparents, our Board president’s Armenian grandparents, and so many others have done.
Empowered with Instagram, Facebook stories, and volunteer-generated blog posts, Cambridge Local First is promoting solidarity between small business owners and the community, while exploring the ownership story in Cambridge. The father of Maria, a Cambridge Local First Board member, is a Greek immigrant who owns a tailor shop in Central Square, not far from ABC Pizza. Who owns ABC Pizza? That story is yet to be told. What does Cambridge’s ownership economy look like?
Our project responds to the Cambridge resident or visitor who currently asks, “Where can I shop local?,” but does not yet know where to look. Through a new, interactive website, a sustained social media campaign, new Executive Director leadership, and a coordinated effort to organize Cambridge small businesses around these communications goals, we aim to solve this problem. Success is when a graduate student checks our website for binding materials to finish her dissertation, and promptly finds Bob Slate Stationer, or when a new arrival to Central Square sees ABC on our Instagram and heads there instead of Domino’s. Cambridge has the potential to foster a more just kind of capitalism, in which residents are empowered to raise each other through their economic choices.
Employees, communities, and other stakeholders reap benefits of a scaled business. Simultaneously, many suffer when that scale becomes too lumbering for innovation and equitable profit sharing. Championing an economy in Cambridge that rewards local, sustainable business practice therefore pays dividends. Cambridge’s community is an influential one. It’s a great place to incubate a new capitalism, one with a more imaginative and nutritious definition of value that challenges the idea that growth forever and at any cost is always best.
Cambridge Local First possesses the vision to achieve this.