A slogan has started to pop up in Old Town Bluffton shops and restaurants, "Love Bluffton, Buy Local." The posters with the simple phrase are intended to be more than just window dressing. It's the start of a movement.
"Love Bluffton, Buy Local" is an effort to get people thinking more about eating and shopping locally. It's the brainchild of The Corner Perk owner Josh Cooke.
Over the past several months, the posters have been put up in a couple dozen restaurants and shops in town. It's not a business venture. It's not a nonprofit group. It shouldn't even be claimed by one organization or individual. Think of it more as a mindset. Or, a realization.
"I never thought about buying local until I started my own business," Cooke said.
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Cooke grew up in Bluffton, graduating from Hilton Head Christian Academy in 1999. He spent time in Atlanta and Charleston before returning about five years ago. What he noticed in bigger cities was an eclectic neighborhood of locally owned businesses. Bluffton was changing and growing by the time he came back. Along U.S. 278 were big chain stores. But a quick drive down to Old Town revealed an eclectic community. He appreciated that uniqueness. Then, when he opened Central Perk more than three years ago he realized the importance of local business.
The money spent at a local business stays there. This helps in keeping an economy alive and vibrant, whether eating at a local restaurant or buying clothes at a local boutique, he said.
A British researcher with The New Economics Foundation once compared money to blood in a story three years ago about the benefits of shopping local in Time magazine. Money, like blood, needs to circulate in a community to keep it healthy, he said. If spent at non-local stores, it largely flows out, like an open wound.
Of course, the line of "local" can be hard to define. Piggly Wiggly, for example, isn't based locally. But they often stock local goods such as seafood, which gets a thumbs up from Cooke. Although it's a regional chain, it's shown that it's willing to make space to support local businesses. He doesn't just want the consumer to think local; it's getting the businesses thinking about how they can support local, too.
Darren Marcioszek opened Fiddlehead Pizza about four months ago. The menu features seafood from Bluffton Oyster Company, produce from Yahveh Farms in Jasper County, and chorizo and lamb from Scott's Market. Corner Perk next door even provides the espresso for the tiramisu. In these cases, buying a pizza at Fiddlehead isn't just supporting Fiddlehead, it's supporting the local businesses he buys from. Aside from keeping it local, a fresh product bought right off the truck at the Farmers Market of Bluffton just tastes better, he said.
The Love Bluffton idea plays a bit off the locavore trend of eating locally that's been sweeping the country. The last thing Marcioszek wants to see is a trend, something cool that fades out just as the next cool thing comes along. The movement shouldn't even be a movement, he said.
"It needs to be a constant effort," he said.
The next step is spreading more awareness. After the posters (made by a Hilton Head company, by the way), Cooke plans for T-shirts or bumper stickers, depending on who he can find to design them.
"The more people we have pushing that mentality the better," he said.