Born of Earth was a viable Westport business for 16 years. But with the economy cratering last fall, owner David Gerard wondered if he’d be around in the spring.
He shared his concerns with Robin Scarella, a long-time customer and PR professional. They knew they were not alone.
They brainstormed an idea: Invite small-business owners to a meeting. Nearly a dozen came. Robin was amazed how few knew each other.
At that November meeting, the group — calling themselves “Locals for Locals” — decided to produce a brochure to boost local businesses. Steve Knowles of Allegra Printing — exactly the type of company they had in mind — designed a tri-fold. They called it “Passport to Westport.”
The “Passport” brochure — available to print out online, and in hard version at the businesses themselves — is filled with discount offers. There are no coupons to clip, and few expiration dates.
According to Robin, “Passport” is “a grassroots effort by local businesses to support each other. A lot of the owners grew up here; they’ve been in Westport a long time. They want to maintain a hometown feeling.”
The broader “Locals for Locals” group now includes clothing stores, restaurants, the Inn at National Hall, frame shops, a liquor store, a car wash — even Westport Country Playhouse. “Everyone has gained clients and friends,” Robin says.
Members have moved beyond the “Passport” idea. They’ve organized “First Tuesday” lunches at the Playhouse. Area authors speak; there are box lunches, and “everyone takes a 90-minute breather from everything else that’s going on.” There were 25 people at the first event, 60 at the second. The next is scheduled for June 2.
So how is “Locals for Locals” different from the Chamber of Commerce?
“We’re an ‘unorganization,'” Robin says. “We’re smaller. We don’t have all the rules and regulations. And there are no fees — it’s free to join.” Plus, every member has a separate page on the “Locals” website.
She added, “We encourage everyone to join the Chamber. This is something different, started at a time when we all need to help each other out.”
At last, there are “green shoots” in the economy. Eventually they’ll sprout. But even when the need for Westporters to help each other lessens, Robin says, “Locals for Locals” will be here — connecting the small businesses that play a big role in making this place “home.”