Lots of communities are embracing “buy local” efforts nowadays. At the national level, groups like the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and Community-wealth.org serve as excellent resources to get new ideas and learn about innovative practices. But, we still lack tools to assess how we’re doing, i.e. to measure the extent and impact of buy local efforts and other strategies to support local independent businesses. A new guide, the Indie City Index, is an excellent first step in this direction. Produced by Civic Economics and the American Booksellers Association, the Indie City Index tracks the vitality of independent retail businesses in communities across the US. The Index examines 363 metro areas and ranks them by the proportion of local retail sales that are attributable to major chain stores. (The authors can then attribute remaining sales to independent retailers.) The top performing metro areas are literally all over the map. Ocean City, NJ ranks as the healthiest independent retail market, followed by Bellingham, WA, Medford, OR, Carson City, NV, and San Jose, CA. Because the top performing communities are so diverse, the authors do not make any sweeping causal conclusions. However, several factors do tend to be correlated with higher scoress on the Indie City Index. These include:
- Higher population density, especially in larger communities.
- More highly educated populations.
- Higher median home values.
While more research is needed, these factors all seem logical. Independent retailers can best prosper in communities with larger populations and more available resources. We look forward to further work on the Index and related research.