RETAIL APPEAL Frog and Toad’s Schofield says his customers often feel good about
supporting a locally owned business.
Frog and Toad, an idiosyncratic gift store on Providence’s East Side, is your quintessential mom and pop shop. It’s owned and operated by an affable husband-and-wife team, Asher and Erin Schofield, with two young children. And when the duo launched the business in March 2001, they did so both to follow their own bliss and as a reaction against the generic big-box businesses that have homogenized the experience of shopping in America.
It took about three years before the Schofields, now 34 and 33, achieved a comfortable level of business at Frog and Toad, which is located on the pedestrian-friendly stretch of Hope Street, a little past Rochambeau, on the way to Pawtucket. In the time since, things have steadily improved — with the current year shaping up as the best in the store’s seven-year history.
While some shoppers might be lured just by particular merchandise, Asher Schofield, a former graphic designer, also credits localism with helping to spur business, particularly during the current downturn. “I think each individual shopper prioritizes investing in their local merchants,” he says. “They come and see photos of my kids on the walls. They know because they bought an $18 necklace that that’s going to something tangible and not to a faceless company with a CEO nowhere near the store. They see the owner of the business behind the store.”
Yet a strong local orientation clearly isn’t always enough, in itself, to help a business survive. Amid competition from larger retailers, Patty Zacks, the owner of Camera Werks, which is located in the same Hope Street neighborhood, has kept fighting by emphasizing customer service and by doing more custom framing. The challenges of operating a small business, though, remain palpable. “We’ve been here for 21 years,” Zacks says. “In that amount of time, we can probably count a good 80 businesses that have come and gone.”
Now, with America enmeshed in the worst fiscal crisis since the Depression, the concept of buying local has gained increased traction. A number of elected officials in Rhode Island, including Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts, General Treasurer Frank Caprio, and Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, have seized upon the idea.
As Roberts notes as part of her Buy Local RI initiative (www.ltgov.ri.gov/buylocalri/), “You can help local, small businesses and the economy in Rhode Island this holiday season by shopping locally. Just think first about making your holiday purchases at a locally owned, independent business. A small shift in your spending habits can have a large impact on Rhode Island’s economy. A 10 percent shift towards local businesses has the power to grow economic output 20 percent, generate millions in economic activity and create hundreds of jobs.”
Meanwhile, the readers of more than 70 alternative weeklies, including the Providence Phoenix, are being encouraged to spend at least $100 of their holiday shopping at locally owned stores this month. If all goes according to plan, according to the theory behind this multiplier effect, more than $2 billion could be pumped into urban economies during the ongoing recession.
Here are some modest suggestions to help get you started.
SUPPORT NEIGHBORHOOD BUSINESSES
Part of the challenge for small businesses is matching the wider selection and cheaper prices of big stores. Then again, you can take pride in knowing that more of your money will remain in the local economy when you support the SMALLER SHOPS AND STORES that populate different retail stretches around Rhode Island, including the one mentioned in the introduction of this story. Instead of fighting traffic on the way to the mall, park the car, stroll around a real neighborhood, and take a look at the offerings.
Suggestions: Downcity Providence; Warren and Bristol; Foster; Wickenden Street in Providence; Tiverton Four Corners; Pawtuxet Village (the Boat House Holiday Sale is slated for December 13 from 10 am-8 pm and Sunday, December 14 from noon-5 pm). For more details on shopping in the capital city, visit Buy Providence (providenceri.com/buyprovidence), which enables shop-pers to scan local businesses by category.