(Above) On Friday nights before home games, the spirit of “United Downtown” casts a shadow over local businesses. Illustration by Susie Bijan.
Indiegainesville is a labor of love by locals (and for locals) to protect the interests of independent businesses in Gainesville. We are a collective of locally owned businesses that came together over the summer to celebrate Gainesville’s unique indie spirit and to ensure that the voices of local businesses would be heard in public forums and receive equal consideration. Prior to indiegainesville’s conception, we couldn’t shake the feeling that our voices were drowned out by the interests of national chains and property owners.
Our incentive to organize came in July when the City Commission proposed to install parking meters downtown and eliminate free parking for our customers. No one from the city consulted us about their decision. They had, apparently, consulted the Gainesville Downtown Owners and Tenants Association, which was not working with us at the time. We petitioned and successfully convinced the commissioners not to install parking meters downtown. The tenants association eventually changed its mind about the issue and joined us in the fight for free parking.
Another event that prompted us to organize was a series of pep rallies collectively known as United Downtown, sponsored by United Way and planned by the tenants association. To sum it up, every Friday night before a home football game, the central region of downtown gets closed off to make room for street parties, which involve corporate beer, food, gator gear and live music at Bo Diddley Plaza.
We weren’t against the event in theory, but we were against the poor planning and lack of notification. Many small business owners learned about United Downtown only two weeks before the first event. Preparation for United Downtown involved blocking off the streets around us early in the day, limiting access for customers. On United Downtown Fridays, local businesses suffered losses ranging from 20 to 50 percent of their usual income.
And who is on the streets of United Downtown? National chains, including Macy’s, Belk and Zaxby’s. Our latest walk through United Downtown on Sept. 30 showcased a sparse variety of vendors, the majority of which were not independent or local businesses. When the tenants association planned the United Downtown event, there was little outreach to the small business community, and what outreach did occur took the form of threats. More than one person was told something along the lines of, “If you don’t support United Downtown, we’ll put you out of business.” We were promised we would make more money and our skepticism was ignored.
We differ from the tenants association in that membership to indiegainesville is free, and members of independent businesses from all over Gainesville are encouraged to join.
We’re working on a few projects that will have a positive impact on Gainesville, including a bike rack installation project, which would involve the placement of bike racks, welded by local artists out of recycled bikes, in various locations downtown and, eventually, throughout the community. We hope that the new bike racks will increase bicycle traffic while highlighting local artists and the independent bike shops that sponsor them. We’re also talking to the City about making downtown more inviting by keeping it better lit at night, among other ideas.
When you enter a locally owned, independent store, you see a selection of products based on the needs of your community. You get to influence the buyer, who’s usually the local business owner, rather than having the buyer push their products on you. As feminist Carol Hanisch wrote, “the personal is political.” Where we choose to shop is a ballot we cast. Our money is our weapon. The products we purchase are votes of confidence in the people who make and sell them. We support local jobs, progressive labor policies and living wages for all workers, and we want to see that support reflected in our purchases, no matter how small.
The Monthly Manifesto is a podium for local organizations to tell Gainesville what they’re about. Submissions and inquiries should be sent to email@example.com with the subject “Monthly Manifesto.”