A plan to bring brick and mortar businesses back to the forefront of consumers' minds, is one Cinda Baxter hopes will save local economies.
Baxter founded The 3/50 Project, a nationwide initiative that has begun to spread like wildfire.
Her story began last March, when she wrote a blog in response to another blog written by Rieva Lesonsky, consulting editor of BizWomen.com.
Lesonsky's blog was in regard to a story she heard on the radio about a man who decided to only patron at stores where he could walk in and actually speak to the owner.
"What happened by the end of the summer is he found he was eating at the same three restaurants all the time," Baxter explained.
Baxter's response on her blog, "Always Upward," was simply telling people to shop at three stores a month, spending $50 amongst them - advice that if half the employed population followed it, it would generate $42.6 billion in revenue.
"I thought maybe a dozen of my friends who own retail stores around the country will jump on this," Baxter recalled after writing her blog post.
However, a week after posting her blog, Baxter decided to post fliers which would briefly explain the concept of "pick three, spend $50," to which she only anticipated half of her dozen or so friends would actually print.
"Well, what happened is all of a sudden it went viral," she said. "People were not only downloading the flier, but they were e-mailing to everybody they know. Within the first 48 hours, I had over 350 e-mails from total strangers saying, 'This is great. What else have you got?'"
Now, less than a year later, Baxter has a Web site up and running to promote The 3/50 Project, which allows "brick and mortar" businesses to sign up, free of charge, as either an independent or a supporter.
To date, more than 14,500 businesses across the country have signed on to the idea, with more than 240,000 visiting the Web site.
"I've been thrilled just at how warm it's been embraced by businesses, by consumers, by grassroots organizations, by the media," Baxter said. "This has been one huge small business lovefest."
But, why shop at small businesses instead of chains, box stores or franchises?
According to Baxter, who was a small business owner for 14 years, it comes down to "commuter consumerism."
The term, which Baxter came up with on her own, is the idea that "each day we are so stressed and we are so rushed ... we have forgotten that it's those little tiny businesses in between the big giant objects along the highway, that are really what carries the brunt of the load for our communities."
With statistics from a 2008 civic economics study, for every $100 spent in a local, independent store, $68 comes back to the community through "taxes, payroll and other expenditures," according to Baxter's Web site.
"If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it on-line and nothing comes home," the Web site states.
Alan's Party Supply and Meyer's Gifts in Plattsburgh are among the businesses across the country who support The 3/50 Project.
Patricia L. Mihal, who owns the businesses, said she first heard of the initiative through trade magazines she receives and, out of shear curiosity, she decided to look more into it.
"I read about it on their Web site and I liked what it stood for," said Mihal. "So, I signed up to be a supporter."
Mihal said she likes the fact she can download the flier and utilize it to help promote not only her businesses, but the idea of shopping at all local businesses as well.
"I think it's very important," Mihal said of shopping locally. "It means more to [local business owners] because you may be saving a dollar or two, but it doesn't mean as much to a store like Wal-Mart as it does to us."
That's because smaller businesses tend to make more of a profit from purchases made at their establishments versus the profit made by a big-box retailer from the same purchase, said Mihal.
"And, it trickles down. It means more to me as a small business owner, because I shop local," she said. "The money goes from the customer to me and goes from me as a customer to another local business."
Mihal said when she and her husband purchased a television last year, they exercised her philosophy.
"We could've saved $20 going up to Sears, but we ended up going to Big Apple Audio because, even though it was $20 more, it was supporting a local business," said Mihal. "It's also because these guys have been around for awhile and I know I can trust them to install it right."
"The businesses that have been around for awhile have a good work ethic. They stand behind what they sell," she added.
And, though Mihal said there is more "uniqueness" in the products found in businesses like hers, what's more important is the level of customer service you find with homegrown businesses, she said.
"This morning, we spent like 10 minutes sitting and talking with a couple who came in here who used to be some of my employee's neighbors," said Mihal. "That doesn't happen in stores like Wal-Mart. We're your neighbors."
For further information regarding The 3/50 Project, including the other local businesses who support the initiative, visit www.the350project.net.
Editor Jeremiah S. Papineau contributed to this report.