In the face of a slowing national economy, Hailey business leaders are networking and brainstorming ideas to stimulate the city's commercial core.
Three years ago a group of retailers in Hailey decided to band together under the banner of the South Valley Merchants Alliance to promote local shopping.
"These are independent businesses that keep our valley vibrant," said Iconoclast Bookstore owner Sarah Hedrick when she and Vintage Gypsy owner Kim Garvin founded the alliance in 2005. "Local businesses tend to give back more to the communities they do business in by paying higher wages to locally hired employees and supporting nonprofit organizations," Hedrick said at the time. "Without the support of local shoppers in Hailey and Bellevue, retailers are in danger of going out of business."
Iconoclast Books' Hailey store closed its doors later that year—but not before a spark was lit among business owners in the south valley. (Hedrick continues to operate Iconoclast Books in Ketchum on Sun Valley Road.)
In 2006, fellow South Valley Merchants Alliance member Doug Brown, owner of Jane's Paper Place stores in Hailey and Ketchum, conducted a survey of prices at department stores such as Target and Office Max in Twin Falls.
Hailey Chamber of Commerce Director Jim Spinelli was paying attention.
"The survey showed that 90 percent of the things you buy in Hailey are no more expensive than they would be in Twin Falls," he said. "Only the big-ticket items will be cheaper in Twin.
"From the chamber's perspective, what the alliance has done is invaluable. With no staffing and no money from the city, they were able to do what we were not doing."
Last week's Hailey Halloween Hoopla celebration is a fine example.
Founded by the alliance three years ago, the celebration brings trick-or-treaters and Hailey businesses together for games, treats and costume contests. Hailey Toy Store Owner and Alliance member Carol Knight blew up hundreds of orange and black balloons to mark the locations of 50 participating businesses. About 700 kids gathered at the Liberty Theatre on Main Street for the grand finale costume contest.
"This is a grassroots initiative," said R.L. Rowsey, musical director of the Liberty Theatre's Company of Fools in Hailey. "The alliance grew from a sense that we are stronger as a collective than as individuals. A lot of wonderful things have come out of this collaboration."
The success of the South Valley Merchants Alliance stems from a committed group of about 20 Hailey business leaders, including Brown, Rowsey, Garvin, Petrea Mara of the Body Buff and Brian Kriesien of KB's Burritos, who gather each month to discuss plans that will stimulate the local economy. The alliance established "First Fridays," a monthly program designed to encourage businesses to stay open later each month for shopping and dining.
"This was a chance to create a monthly celebration," said Garvin, who sends out e-mails to 120 business owners and individuals interested in keeping up with alliance activities, including minutes of their meetings.
Garvin recently included Paula's Dress Shop and The Cocina Café, two new businesses in Hailey, on her mailing list.
As Alliance participants, shop and restaurant owners may use what Spinelli calls the "Macy's Approach," referring customers to one another across town, as though they are all in one big department store.
"The alliance has created a very tight network," he said. "If Vintage Gypsy doesn't have something that someone is looking for, the owner might send the customer to Bungalow, for instance. The idea is to keep money in the town, or at least in the valley."
According to Spinelli, the approach is working, even during an extended slowdown in the local and national economies.
"The small-business community is pretty stable in Hailey," he said. "The alliance has brought more local-option tax revenues to the city by giving visitors and second home owners entertainment and other activities. These are good reasons to stay in town."
For about a year, the Hailey Chamber of Commerce has been providing promotional support and insurance coverage for festivities founded by the alliance. Spinelli said one of the South Valley Merchants Alliance business leaders will soon be formally appointed to the Hailey chamber's board to act as liaison with the Hailey and Bellevue business communities.
The next big holiday celebration, established by the alliance three years ago, will be the Hailey Hometown Holidays, featuring a Christmas Parade on Main Street, with Santa Claus in attendance, followed by a Christmas tree-lighting reception and bonfire at the Ellsworth Inn.
The alliance raised $1,600 for Christmas lights this year from the End of School Kids' Carnival at Atkinsons' Market in Hailey. Last summer, the organization raised $20,000 from local businesses to display and maintain 50 flower baskets and barrels around the city.
SVMA at a glance:
· Founded 2005
· 120 business and individual members
· Chamber of Commerce collaboration since 2007
End of School Kids' Carnival, last Friday of May
Hailey Halloween Hoopla, Oct 31
Hailey Hometown Holidays, first Friday after Thanksgiving
First Fridays business celebrations, third Friday of every month