Being broke does not mean leaning away from local

By Annie Stodola

Last week, I spent some time in Asheville, N.C. Something that stood out for me about the city was the huge emphasis on supporting local businesses. Throughout the downtown area, “Love Asheville” and “Local is the New Black” stickers proudly announced each unique, local business.

The stores in Asheville are not  that different from what we have in Rochester. A majority of the businesses in downtown Rochester are locally owned and completely unique to the area, and yet we have no real push for members of the community — students in particular — to shop locally.

While I enjoy the deals at chain restaurants and big box stores as much as the next broke college kid, the businesses in Rochester go out of their way to make shopping locally not only a convenient choice, but an economically smart one as well.

These businesses are eager to draw in the college population, whether it’s through student discounts, happy-hour specials or the increasingly popular social media outreach.

Downtown Rochester has its own Facebook page where it features downtown business Facebook pages of the day. While not all of these businesses cater to the traditional college student demographic, many of them do and they’re energetically searching for new ways to reach us.  Restaurants like Miguel’s Cantina, Rockin’ Cupcakes and Rochester Mills all actively use sites like Facebook and Twitter to offer special discounts as well as receive customer feedback.

One of the biggest complaints recurrently brought up by students at Oakland University is that they don’t feel like they get the experience of being in an actual college town.

To their credit, local business owners, the Downtown Development Association and the university have done their part to begin to foster a partnership between the Rochester area and students.

The university and its Alumni Association have worked together to create the Go Card, which offers students discounts at local businesses. The Bear Bus is also helping advance of the partnership as it provides students transportation to the downtown area on the weekends.

There’s only so much that the university and business owners can do to make the area college-friendly. At this point, it’s up to students to patronize local businesses to make it clear that we want unique Rochester businesses to thrive.

We’re lucky enough to have a community that not only houses our school but that also actively seeks out ways to make local entertainment, dining and shopping affordable and accessible for college students. If we want these businesses to stick around and build a college town atmosphere, it’s time we start supporting them.

I understand that for many of us, shopping locally exclusively isn’t possible or practical, but even small changes in the way we shop can make a big difference.

Trade in your morning latte from an overpriced coffee shop for a freshly brewed coffee from a locally owned shop downtown. During the spring and summer, grab some fresh produce from the Farmer’s Market downtown instead of  at a run-of-the-mill grocery store.

If we want a college town experience, we have to show local businesses we’re happy to support them.

Shopping locally not only helps business owners see we want them to stick around, but it gives us, as consumers, a uniquely Rochester experience.