The Shop the Village campaign and recent report from John and Maggie Anderson’s “shopping black” experiment are really something to consider. As we complain about empty storefronts and wonder why more businesses don’t locate in Oak Park, we need to ask ourselves if we are supporting our existing businesses enough to keep them open. If statistics are provided to potential new businesses, would they reflect positively about the support they could expect from our local community?

At a meeting-of-the-candidates forum in March, one office-seeker stated that she enjoyed eating at restaurants on Madison Street in Forest Park. Hmm, what did this tell voters about her support of Oak Park businesses? Sure, I eat in Forest Park, but it is the exception – my rule is to eat in Oak Park. It is time we stop and re-evaluate how we support our local Oak Park businesses, many of which are owned by our neighbors and contribute to the vitality of our village. Oak Park and Oak Parkers should be first on our minds when we shop.

We often look to our local businesses when we go to them for donations to our schools, churches, and other community organizations and charities. We read our high school theatrical programs and church bulletins that are supported by local advertisers. We need to do more than read; we need to thank them for their support by patronizing them for the products and services we use every day. Can we break our “big-box” habit? Support the businesses that support the institutions that are important to you.

I recently heard about the 3/50 Project. It suggests that you pick three local businesses and pledge to support them with $50 of your planned expenditures each month. According to their Web site (www.the350 project.net) “for every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.” I don’t need to go to River Forest to have a selection of 100 breakfast cereals; Pan’s choices are just fine, and its deli counter is almost half the cost. Gas might be 10 cents cheaper in DuPage County, but I’d rather save the time (and gas) and spend an extra $1.60 on a fill-up in Oak Park. Oak Park Bakery or Farmers’ Market donuts are both local and both better than anything else around.

Here’s a fun weekend project: look at your check book or credit card statements for the past six months and add up how much you spent outside of Oak Park that could have been spent locally. Take the next six months and shift your spending to Oak Park. Changing our spending habits can create a stimulus package right in our own community.

Tom Gull, a 24-year Oak Park resident, is the former business manager at Ascension Church and currently works at the J. S. Paluch Co., which prints the Sunday bulletin for 3,000 churches across the country.

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