It’s the time of year when communities come together – to celebrate the holidays, to bring warmth to neighbors in need and to look ahead to a new year. While important, that community togetherness shouldn’t be just a seasonal thing. Community-owned businesses bring local residents together all year long in a shared approach to supply and demand.
The American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) defines a community-owned business as one that is financed and owned solely by local residents. A group of residents joins together to invest in the business and divvies up the responsibilities of day-in and day-out management. If the business turns a profit, the resident-owners may take dividends based on their investments. As AMIBA points out, however, profits aren’t the top priority of community-owned businesses.
Often, such businesses arise to fill a void in the community. That’s the story behind Quimper Mercantile Company in Port Townsend, Washington. In 2011, a long-running and beloved local general store, Swain’s Outdoor and More, closed its doors. According to The Port Townsend Leader, the family-owned business couldn’t secure financing to stay open. Faced with the loss of Swain’s, a group of local Port Townsend residents got together to establish Quimper Mercantile Company, in the very same storefront that had housed Swain’s. Quimper Mercantile Company is community-owned, and the company seeks to fill the gap left by Swain’s in the local market, allowing residents to continue shopping local for basic goods.
Unlike co-ops, community-owned businesses are open to all residents and visitors for business. In other words, they don’t restrict their patronage to investing members. In this way, community-owned businesses may represent a small group of people working for the betterment of the entire community at large.
Ultimately, community-owned businesses exist to meet the demand of local consumers. Along the way, though, they also create an opportunity for local investment. Local investments can bring more wealth, new jobs and a more vibrant community to residents, by keeping and growing investments in the community, whereas investments made in publicly traded companies may leave the community altogether. As important as it is for residents to invest locally, it’s also important that they have viable opportunities to do so. Community-owned businesses can present the unique opportunity of allowing residents to invest in something they will see and use every day – and something that the community will directly benefit from.
By keeping investments, spending and inventory in the local community, community-owned businesses do much more than balance supply with demand. Even in the small business community, they stand out as symbols of the bond between different members of the same community. For more information on community-owned businesses and how to start one, visit www.amiba.net.