Boosts Local Businesses
By Pamela Brighbill
As a resident of Middletown Township for thirty-years, it has always been important to me to shop in town and support our local businesses. Knowing our residents and businesses would be facing difficult economic times, I began my term as Mayor in 2009 thinking about what the township could do to support the local business community.
Middletown is often referred to as the “town of many
villages.” We are a 42-square-mile township with over a dozen villages, many with their own small shopping districts.
Being creatures of habit, many of our residents rarely visited other areas of town and had no knowledge of stores and other businesses just a few miles away. We needed to find a way to connect Middletown residents and business owners to maintain a thriving business community and a strong local economy.
Pharmacy owners and Mayor Brightbill cut the ribbon at the opening of a new pharmacy.
When I first proposed the BUY MIDDLETOWN campaign in January 2009 to encourage residents to shop local before going elsewhere, I never imagined how fast it could grow in less than a year’s time. I brainstormed with our Township Administrator, Public Information Officer and other township staff to think of tangible ways we could support the business community and encourage residents to shop local. I also wanted to find a way to let our business owners know that the community, as a whole, was committed to supporting them in these difficult times.
We first decided the campaign needed a logo. We held a contest open to Middletown residents and businesses based in Middletown. Out of over a dozen entries, Middletown resident and freelance graphic artist Christine Alvarez’s design was our winner. Her BUY MIDDLETOWN logo had the tag line “What’s Spent in Town Comes Back Around.” We felt her logo could brand our campaign. Her tag line succinctly expressed the essence of the program. Community support for local businesses would strengthen our economy and help keep Middletown the great place it is.
I began to talk and write about BUY MIDDLETOWN every chance I got—in the township newsletter, press releases, on the website, at township meetings, at community events, and in stores I visited. It wasn’t long before we heard of our first big success story. A local elementary school that holds a plant sale each spring had been using an out-of-town supplier for many years. After reading about our BUY MIDDLETOWN campaign, the school’s PTO looked for and found a Middletown nursery. The sale was so successful that the nursery owner made several extra deliveries to the school. He now has many new customers who had not been familiar with his business!
While we were spreading the word by mouth, our Management Information System (MIS) Department added the information to the township website. They worked with our website provider to develop an online directory that tied into the website registration feature. The resulting directory is managed easily by township staff and is user-friendly for the casual and experienced Internet user. The launch of our Local Business Directory this summer was especially exciting. The free directory helps local shoppers and businesses connect with each other. Middletown businesses can upload their logo, provide details about their businesses, and even include a link to their websites.
While the directory focuses on encouraging residents to shop local, the directory can be used by anyone. Shoppers can browse the list, search by category or keyword such as dining, repairs and professional services. Business locations can also be viewed on an interactive map. It really is our own mini-yellow pages with over 100 registered businesses and counting. Visit www.middletownnj.org/buy to view the business directory.
In thinking about the Middletown business community, we realized that most of our business owners have never had the opportunity to meet. The township, in coordination with our volunteer Community Affairs Council, hosted two free Business Networking nights. Local businesses donated food and refreshments, door prizes, and graphic design services for promotional materials. With more than 100 businesses represented at the last event, we certainly plan to host more in the future.
In addition, I’ve attended many grand openings, re-openings and other business promotional events. I’ve cut ribbons at local gyms, car repair shops, pharmacies and pizzerias. I’ve even bagged groceries to promote a local grocery store program that raises money for food banks. These events are excellent opportunities to highlight businesses that are ready, willing and able to provide quality goods and services to our residents. Announcements and photos from business events are used in press releases, posted to the township website and aired on the township television station to keep local businesses in the forefront. Business promotional events are also a great way to meet new people and spread the word about BUY MIDDLETOWN. I always have a handful of flyers with me to give to business owners that I meet in my travels.
Middletown Mayor Pamela Brightbill bags groceries to promote a local grocery store program that raises money for food banks
We’ve tied the BUY MIDDLETOWN campaign into the township’s Green Initiative. In addition to supporting the local economy, shopping locally helps reduce gasoline consumption, traffic congestion and auto emissions. We highlight BUY MIDDLETOWN as an integral component of our Green Initiative every chance we get to encourage residents to shop local. On a side note, the environmental benefits of the program are giving us points toward our Sustainable New Jersey Certification. For more information on this program, visit www.sustainablejersey.org.
As with any new initiative or campaign, success is dependent upon the public hearing about it, understanding it, and embracing it. BUY MIDDLETOWN has had an amazing first year thanks to the wealth of information provided to the community. Our First Place Award in the 48th Annual Municipal Public Information Contest Best Special/Innovative Program category has made us especially proud.
We will continue to seek creative ways to support the Middletown business community. There is nothing more important than promoting local businesses, especially in these tough economic times. No matter where you live, before heading outside of town for goods and services, consider whether you can purchase them from a business right in your own hometown. Of course we would love for all of you to BUY MIDDLETOWN as well.
This article appeared in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 87, Number 2, February 2010