Merchants form Warwick Independent Business Alliance

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:50

    WARWICK-It's not easy to get almost 100 people to attend a meeting at 8 a.m. But that's exactly what happened as droves of business men and women showed up at the Warwick Town Hall on Thursday, June 16. They were there for a presentation, "Communities at the Tipping" by Jeff Milchen, outreach director for the American Independence Alliance (AIBA). The presentation was sponsored in part by Warwick's Community 2000. Milchen explained that an IBA is a coalition of local independent businesses, community organizations and other members united to support the community. It is designed to be a tool, which helps citizens regain decision-making ability over their community's future and shifts consciousness toward supporting local business instead of national chains. "Money spent in this community," said Milchen, "stays here." He gave the examples of the largest chain stores, which centralize their in-house services such as printing, accounting and advertising at corporate headquarters and not in the communities where they have stores. In 1998, when Milchen founded the first IBA in Boulder, Colorado, he didn't even own a business. His primary concern was the viability of the community. He explained that IBAs raise public awareness of the myriad benefits that locally owned and independent businesses bring to communities. They do this, he argued, by such things as using a member brand, creating group promotions and advertising to compete with the advantages enjoyed by chains, working with local governments and encouraging residents to support local businesses. According to its literature, the Warwick IBA, spearheaded by business owners Deborah Blomfield and Michael McDermott, is a grassroots partnership of locally owned businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals. It is a "Business to Community" organization committed to raising awareness of the value and importance of supporting the local economy. Members must have their primary place of business in Warwick, be independently owned and free to make business decisions without approval by affiliates or owners outside the area. During a Q&A period following the presentation, business owner Don Siegel was the first to raise his hand. He questioned the model communities such as Boulder and Austin, Texas, which were used in the presentation. "They're very different from Warwick," he observed. However, Siegel later reported that he had decided to join the Warwick IBA. "I'm not sure about the demographics needed to support this organization in Warwick," he said. "But I favor the concept of patronizing local merchants. I'm willing to give it a try." Larry Drake, president of the Warwick Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that his organization fully supported the Warwick IBA. Debbie Iurato, treasurer of the Warwick Merchants Guild, explained all the local business organizations could work together. The Guild, for example, would continue to sponsor local events. The Chamber would encourage new businesses to come to Warwick and the IBA would educate the community about the benefits of shopping locally. "It's everyone working together," she said. "I'm very excited about it." Developer Lou Marquette, however, issued a word of caution for Warwick's downtown, which is populated with many gift shops, antique shops and restaurants. He argued that if local businesses do not carry everyday items that people need, they will travel to the malls in Middletown, Rockland County or New Jersey. And once they've parked their car and invested the time, they may decide to purchase items on impulse that they might have easily found in Warwick. Milchen agreed and responded that the local business community must identify these needs and fill them. In a subsequent interview, George Antoniades, co-owner of the popular G's Restaurant, agreed that Warwick needs good reasons for local citizens as well as day-trippers to come into the Village. "We have to look at the big picture," he said. Antoniades also agreed that the community should support local business. "I wish I started a journal back in January that would list all the organizations and clubs that ask for our support," he said.