Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - October 29, 2010

Shop Around Pleasanton

Campaign promotes "shopping local" to help retailers, restaurants thrive

by Jeb Bing

When you're planning your holiday shopping trips, think Pleasanton.

That's the message local merchants, restaurant owners, city officials and, most significantly, Pleasanton taxpayers are touting in the city's new "Shop Around Pleasanton" campaign.

According to a national study, holiday sales by independent retailers climbed 3% last year for cities embracing a shop local campaign, compared to just 1% for those municipalities without a holiday sales program. Even in the depth of the recession during the holiday period in 2008, sales fell just 3% in the campaign promotion cities, compared to 5% in the others.

The Shop Around Pleasanton campaign follows the guidelines of the 3/50 Project, a national program founded by Cinda Baxter in her blog on March 11, 2009.

"I threw together a free flyer businesses could crank out of their desktop printers to hand customers," Baxter said. "Within 48 hours, I received more than 350 emails asking: 'What else have you got?' So I built a website and launched it in mid-afternoon on March 30."

Baxter is a retail consultant whose mission is to strengthen independent brick and mortar businesses. Having spent 14 years as a successful retail store owner, she knows retailing from the inside out and is now using her skills to help cities and businesses where many independents are struggling, including Pleasanton.

Pamela Ott, Pleasanton's economic development manager, said the Shop Around Pleasanton campaign is designed to promote shopping and dining throughout the city, from downtown to neighborhood shopping centers to Stoneridge Shopping Center. But while major retailers such as Macy's and JC Penny have large marketing budgets for advertising, promotions and public relations, it's the smaller "mom and pop" size stores that lack those kinds of funds.

"If we don't support them, they're at risk of going away," said Laura Olson, director of the Pleasanton Downtown Association.

In getting the City Council's approval to spend $58,000 on the Shop Around Pleasanton campaign, Ott explained that the challenging economic climate of the past few years has been particularly difficult for retail and restaurant establishments as many consumers have had less income to spend.

"While the economic forecast would appear to have some positive indicators, companies are looking ahead at a slow recovery," she said.

To assist local businesses in realizing a productive and profitable upcoming holiday shopping season, and as part of the city's commitment to maintaining a stable local economy, the council agreed to fund the shop local campaign.

"This will benefit merchants and encourage residents and visitors to talk about the shopping attributes that are to be found throughout Pleasanton," Ott said.

Of course, Pleasanton is not alone in facing a continued business slowdown. The office market is at an all-time low, few building permits have been issued for new housing in recent years, and the city of Pleasanton has put a hold on hiring and capital spending. Even the school district is facing back-to-back budget shortfalls because state aid is not keeping up with increased costs and enrollment. Downtown and in most neighborhood centers, some stores have closed.

According to financial writer Bruce Watson, retail and food service revenues across the country are at four-year lows and the small business loan failure rate has now passed 12%.

"It's clear that America's independent retailers need some serious help," Watson writes. One solution might be the grassroots 3/50 project, which asks consumers to choose three favorite businesses and commit to spending $50 per month in them."

"That's what we are hoping happens here," the PDA's Olson said. "We want to remind people that purchases made here benefit our community. If we want to remain a vibrant, active town, we need vibrant and active businesses."

Pleasanton's campaign got under way last month with a retail seminar for local merchants. Ott and her team, including the city's Economic Vitality Committee that she handles, discussed promotional opportunities with other sponsors, including the PDA, Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, Hacienda Business Park Owners Association and the Stoneridge Shopping Center.

"The campaign is both innovative and timely in that it uses a social networking platform to engage merchants and consumers in an ongoing dialogue about shopping around Pleasanton," Ott said. "This online approach is being augmented by traditional marketing outreach, including posters, postcards and media advertising.

"A highlight of the campaign is a $1,000 Pleasanton gift card that will incentivize consumers to share their favorite local shopping experience and thereby encourage others to participate," Ott added.

The campaign, which runs through the end of the year, includes a downtown art walk from 6 to 9 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month, and the Magical Holiday Evening on Friday, Nov. 19.

The next day, the PDA and the Livermore downtown association are co-sponsoring a 7 a.m. "shopping extravaganza" in downtown Pleasanton, with a call to shoppers to come dressed in their pajamas to get their Christmas shopping started as soon as they get out of bed.

Called "Earlier than the Bird," Olson said the Saturday, Nov. 20, shopping program follows a similar one Livermore has been conducting for the last four years and also comes a week ahead of "Black Friday," the traditional start of Christmas shopping on the day after Thanksgiving.

Using public funds, Ott also is expanding her promotion of Pleasanton's shopping opportunities in publicity written for Bay Area media and through other promotions. A consulting agency she has hired also has conducted telephone surveys asking Pleasanton residents why they shop in Pleasanton or why they don't, and out-of-town shoppers here are also being asked about the advantages Pleasanton businesses offer that keeps them coming back.

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