ON THE AVENUES: There has never been a better time for an Independent Business Alliance in New Albany.

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ON THE AVENUES: There has never been a better time for an Independent Business Alliance in New Albany.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

Before we begin, kindly indulge a relevant digression amid the Chronicles of New Gahania.

“Good morning, Mr. Baylor. How are you doing?”

“Well, I’m doing fine, and as soon as I deposit this pittance of a check, it will be time for another coffee, and maybe that will help a bit, at least until cocktail hour. Actually, you can make a pretty strong argument for cocktail hour almost any time of day, except you run into those pesky wee hours when the bars are all closed, but that’s why sensible folks keep their liquor cabinets stocked at home, because your living room never closes. Flasks are even better. They keep your libation of choice toasty and close, and did you know that flasks were popularized during Prohibition? That’s right, we needed a 13-year-long flask to maintain harmony until the bars reopened after Repeal. Hell, we still do. If it was up to me, we’d have a museum about Prohibition, and force the school kids to go. Until then, there’s always cold beer and hot tickets.”

“You’re all set. Have a great day, Mr. Baylor.”

Last week, I glanced in the general direction of Develop New Albany and suggested DNA begin healing itself by heeding the relaunch of National Main Street’s Four Point approach.

ON THE AVENUES: DNA, National Main Street, the Four Points, and how it might yet be possible to get this thing right for once.

After all, isn’t cooperation a two-way street?

One of these points has to do with economic vitality, and in the New Albanian sense, economic vitality almost entirely has to do with independent locally-owned small businesses.

This week on Tuesday there was another merchant mixer meeting, and as has been the case so many times in the past – in fact, as it occurs each time I attend a merchant mixer meeting – I couldn’t help observing that in the context of downtown New Albany’s ongoing revitalization, the effort has been led almost entirely by independent locally-owned small businesses, as well as a cadre of local developers and builders.

Yes, there are caveats aplenty. New Albany’s revitalization is imperfect and incomplete, but insofar as humans have returned to a once deserted downtown, it’s because independent locally-owned small businesses have taken the risks, invested, and transformed New Albany from a metro Louisville punch line into something different.

How different, and whether the results are sustainable, constitute the next huge hurdle. You’re entitled to my opinion, so here it is.

Independent locally-owned small businesses are mistaken to think that this hurdle can be cleared by disengagement, or by waiting for this or any other city government to dictate the terms.

Rather, independent locally-owned small business owners must evade the intended diversion of time spent micromanaging periodic events and instead put their mouths where their money is by heeding the advice of the American Independent Business Alliance and embracing a simple but eloquent truth: “There truly is strength in numbers.”

AMIBA’s characterization of the situation follows. If you own a business or know someone who does, please read and share it.

Because Community Matters

Think of your favorite shop, restaurant, farm or service provider. We’ll bet it’s a homegrown business. Independent locally-owned businesses are essential to a vital local economy and community character. They’re where the locals go. They’re owned by our friends and neighbors, or maybe even by you.

Community-serving businesses are the backbone of local economies, civic life, local charities, and wealth creation for millions of citizens, as well as a training ground for future generations of entrepreneurs.

Problem: Today, independent businesses face unprecedented competition from larger chain competitors, internet merchants and franchises that enjoy national or international branding power and major economies of scale. As a result, community-based businesses comprise a smaller portion of our economy than ever before. We’ll lose much more than places to shop, dine or do business if we allow current trends to continue.

A Proven Solution: Many cities and towns have discovered a model, pioneered by the staff of the American Independent Business Alliance, to counter these trends successfully and help local entrepreneurs thrive. More than 85 communities in North America now boast Independent Business Alliances to unite independent businesses across all sectors, along with concerned citizens to build vibrant, durable local economies. AMIBA can help you use our models to implement an effective buy local campaign, pass pro-local public policies, facilitate effective collaboration among local businesses and more. There truly is strength in numbers. Learn more about benefits of AMIBA affiliation or the four realms of IBA work. You’ll love what an IBA can do for your business or community!

Readers with long memories will recall that six or seven years ago, there began an effort to form an independent business alliance under the auspices of AMIBA. It was called New Albany First.

Currently, New Albany First is as defunct as Monty Python’s infamous parrot, and because the organization failed to gain traction, some will conclude that the principles it espoused also have been discredited.

I strongly disagree. To the contrary, I’m here to suggest that these principles are more important than ever before.

When it comes to power, a vacuum is a condition waiting to be filled. In New Albany, with local government barely a blip on the chart as it pertains to support for independent locally-owned small business development, groups like DNA and One Southern Indiana seek to fill a vacuum created by the inexplicable, ongoing inability of independent local small business owners to organize themselves, to advance their economic interests as a bloc, and to take seriously their potential power as such a purpose-built collective.

If business owners are content to outsource this clout to an organization, then shouldn’t it be an organization whose primary purpose is to advance the clout of business owners?

However, there is no reason why a New Albany Independent Business Alliance (for a model, think LIBA, the Louisville Independent Business Alliance) could not exist in cooperation with DNA’s economic vitality mission, as a component of what NMS now refers to as “cross-cutting Community Transformation Strategies.” Genuine possibilities exist, but before they’re leveraged, a level of clarity must be attained. This will take longer than hour-long meetings, once each month.

As for the legacy of New Albany First, we should be able to chalk it up to experience, and learn from our mistakes, but I’m less concerned with organizational details as I am with making the most important point of all to New Albany’s independent local small business owners.

Independent locally-owned small businesses have driven New Albany’s revitalization, and yet in terms of decision-making, the reins are nowhere close to the hands of the folks who’ve done the work.

Why do we not insist on input commensurate with our achievements?

August 11: ON THE AVENUES: DNA, National Main Street, the Four Points, and how it might yet be possible to get this thing right for once.

August 4: ON THE AVENUES: Federal funding mechanisms total eighty percent. The other half is unalloyed political malice.

July 28: ON THE AVENUES: An imaginary exercise tentatively called The Curmudgeon Free House.

July 21: ON THE AVENUES: We have our own Big Four Bridge. They’re called Main, Market, Spring and Elm.

July 14: ON THE AVENUES: Weeds, porch appliances and our civic Gospel of Appearances.

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