Buy local push in Germantown aims for big changes one step at a time

You’ve heard it before, “buy local” and support small communities across the country. It’s easy to do if your neighborhood already has a quality grocery store or farmers market, eco-clothing boutiques and homemade beer. But what if your neighborhood mostly offers fast food, corner bodegas, and low end fashion stores?

When buying local means not getting what you want

Deborah Ellerby, vice president of the Duval Improvement Association is frustrated, “I remember going to a small grocery store in Germantown and when I got to the register I saw some of the vegetables were rotten. When I tried to exchange the food or get my money back and the owner refused.”

Ellerby says she received the same treatment at a local beauty supply store when trying to return items she bought moments before.

“I don’t think the majority of these store employees have been trained in customer service skills, I would shop locally but I can’t,” she added.

Long time resident Brigette Fleming agrees, “We really want to spend our money in Germantown but it’s hard for us to find things we want to buy here,” she said.

What local shoppers can do

Fleming and Susan Guggenheim teach computer literacy skills at the Chelten Avenue library and make a conscious effort to eat lunch locally. They plan on creating a downloadable business guide including reviews of local businesses in Germantown. The document would then be available on Germantown Community Connection’s website.

During a Living in Germantown meeting earlier this month residents discussed how they as individuals can improve the Chelten Ave. business district. The group plans on going to individual businesses in Germantown, especially those on Chelten, and letting the owners know they want to shop locally and encourage them to offer products they would buy if the store started stocking them.  They hope that even if one store can see that they are missing out on customers who want to support them they will see Chelten Ave. begin to transform.

Susan Guggenheim, who helped found the Living in Germantown community forum, says the quarterly meeting never wants to become a formal non-profit. “I wanted to start Living in Germantown because I believe no government, politician, non-profit, or agency is going to solve our problems, we have to as individuals meet like this and try to start sorting things out ourselves.”

The group agreed that if they only spent money in Mt Airy and Chestnut Hill, they couldn’t expect any changes in Germantown.

Case in point: Fresh Grocer

A recent example is the community uproar over the Chelten Ave. Fresh Grocer closing and the huge vacant lot that’s been left behind at Chelten and Pulaski avenues (see related link). To many Living in Germantown attendees the store closing wasn’t a total shock. Some residents say they rarely shopped at the store because it wasn’t managed properly.

Resident Lillian Paulmier said, “One of the reasons I never felt comfortable shopping at that Fresh Grocer is that you would walk in and the first thing you saw was a ton of television monitors watching you like they knew you wanted to steal something.”

But some in the group were concerned the new plans for the lot will not be any better, especially when the point of the fledgling buy local Germantown movement is rooted in getting higher quality products in the shopping district than currently exist there.

Guggenheim says she feels the discount grocery chain, Sav-A-Lot, that is planned for the site would really be a step backward in the process.  She wants her neighbors to think of what they want to see and would support financially. “I would demand from the owners that there be a weekly farmers market in the parking lot,” she said. “How about the slogan, ‘grocery stores not dollar stores,'” she added.


Click on these links to learn more about Germantown Community Connection and West Central Germantown Neighbors, which organize the Living in Germantown forums.

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