Independent Local Businesses Are Key To Austin’s Thriving Culture and Commerce

Carrie AIBA local business

Next time you’re on your way to Best Buy or Target to pick up an item or two, consider this: If every family in the Austin metro area spent just $10 a month with a locally-owned, independent business (those shops you’re driving right past) instead of a national chain, over $50 Million would be directly returned to the Austin community. That means better schools, better roads, more support for police, fire and rescue departments, and stronger local economies.

Are you shocked? The real shocker is why we’re not patronizing local businesses as often when they provide competitive prices, local deals, better service, and a better understanding of local needs and concerns.

On top of that, local, independent businesses are the heart of Austin, providing substantial support to local nonprofits and community events.

Carrie La Tour, of the Austin Independent Business Alliance recently met with us and pointed out another fact every Austin shopper, homeowner and diner should know…when you patronize a local business, three times as much money stays in the community, compared to a national chain.

The AIBA is no average business group. The Alliance ( caters to locally owned businesses only. And in Austin, that group is growing and keeping pace with the growth of our city, which is good news, as you’ll see in a minute. But first, did you know:

  • Austin small businesses with fewer than 20 employees accounted for 81% of total growth in all businesses.
  • 75,000 local business owners account for the bulk of the tax revenue that fuels our city.
  • 45 cents of every dollar spent at a local business gets put right back into the local community, compared to 13 cents from large national retailers.

local shops contributions

The Alliance knew this intuitively, that smaller mom and pop stores had something the big guys didn’t, but it was difficult to quantify until the AIBA put it in writing in 2012, just as Austin’s population began began to explode.

They presented the research to the City Council in the form of the Local Business Manifesto, and won the city’s support, which is another benefit of the AIBA – it advocates to local government on behalf of small business to ensure it’s needs are met. Over 400 members of the Alliance are better, stronger businesses because of it.

AIBA helps small independent businesses (more than 50% of the business must be locally owned) connect with each other, support each other’s businesses with reciprocal services and goods, and also to join voices about the benefits of supporting local businesses to the public.

Austin prides itself on the off-beat, and slightly twisted, but you don’t need to be “weird” to join the AIBA. A recent members’ meeting focused on wellness at work, and offered training on such topics are breathing, physical therapy, personality types in the workplace, and even massage. With several other choices of business groups around, why pick the AIBA?

The executive director Rebecca Melancon has been spreading the news about the powerhouse that is local business since 2010 when she joined it. She also led the charge for IBIZ districts within Austin.

Proudly leveraging Austin’s successful example for the creation of new IBIZ groups nationwide, Melancon now advocates for the model of clustering businesses into neighborhoods and then showcasing the qualities that make them stand out as a mico-localized group.

Since most people tend to shop, eat, and get services rendered close to home, most small businesses crop up to cater to those friends and neighbors in their community. It makes natural sense to support local businesses in your zip codes (something Austin is proud to do), but there’s another reason to identify what makes each area of town unique. Declaring a specific street a “thing” will also encourage visitors from other city residents and out-of-town visitors.

Austin is growing. We are the 11th largest city in the United States and growing larger every day.

“Keeping Austin Weird” will be a stretch as the population grows and our town transforms into a major city of the world. But like deep tree roots function to hold the ground intact and prevent the topsoil from washing away; it’s our local businesses’ spirit and tenacity that holds the essence of our treasured identity and keeps it alive through periods of rapid growth.

Local flavor that lasts starts with the local business owner and a personal vision to create something to delight and serve its local residents.

As the second city to adopt the IBIZ model (Boulder was the first), Austin proudly features eight distinct areas where you can shop, dine, wash, groom, play, bike or walk your pet in a setting unlike any other in the nation. These are hotspots where enough local (weird) venues, restaurants, service purveyors, and shops popped up to make it a destination worth crossing town for.

local biz circle of life

So why buy local, besides the natural kickback love to your community?

  • Shopkeepers care. They serve locals who are neighbors, fellow parents, their kids go to the same school together; they have a vested interest in seeing their business succeed so they go the extra mile to serve customers with a little extra TLC.
  • Small local shops curate the unique items for their stores. They may have niche-y products you can’t find in big box stores, or the highest quality of certain category, or just a specific vibe you can’t find anywhere else.
  • Community is usually important to the independent business owner. If you are looking for a place “where everyone knows your name,” chances are good you’ll find it at a locally owned business. Community is the glue for success. “It’s all about the people” for many AIBA members.

If you already own a business in Austin, and are considering joining this eclectic group of business owners, pick up one of the guides published twice yearly at a local shop (The current “Indie Austin” guide features Book People on the cover) and call Carrie La Tour to inquire about membership.


  1., the AIBA’s website
  2. Download the Local Business Manifesto
  3.  Flipbook of the Eight IBIZ Districts in Austin (have you visited them all?)

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