The American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) announces the launch of “Business Against Bigotry,” a campaign helping independent businesses thwart bigotry and discrimination in their communities. After hearing reports of local discrimination and intimidation from several of its 85 member Independent Business Alliances, AMIBA is enabling business owners to take a lead role in ensuring all people feel safe and welcome in local businesses and commercial areas.
This week, AMIBA rolled out window decals declaring, “We Welcome Everybody/Diversity Strengthens Our Community,” along with online graphics. The decals are designed for schools, houses of worship and other institutions as well as businesses. Web graphics in multiple languages are free for anyone to use via AMIBA.net/bab. The Business Against Bigotry campaign also offers guidance to help business owners embrace diversity and diminish bigotry within their communities through advocacy and dialogue.
Campaign plans include production of radio public service announcements and customizable print ads promoting similar messages. AMIBA also is seeking support to advance a more ambitious second stage: training local business coalition leaders to facilitate community gatherings aimed at deepening understanding and creating local action plans for safer, more respectful communities.
AMIBA sees the campaign as good for local business. “If a customer has a negative experience at one independent business in their community, it reduces the chances that they will patronize another,” said Jeff Milchen, AMIBA Co-director. “An individual who feels less than fully welcomed will simply visit other places where they feel safe to shop and dine…or they’ll just stay home and give their money to Amazon.”
While business owners often fear engaging on controversial issues, Chris Morrow, owner of Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, NY had conflict thrust upon him last year. A customer was angry that the store displayed a copy of the Qur’an and threatened to harm the business unless it was removed. Morrow responded with a Facebook post reaffirming his commitment to encouraging education about all faiths and ideologies. After the post went viral, Northshire enjoyed an uptick in sales and overwhelmingly positive feedback. “The need for tolerance, openness and civil discourse is higher than it’s ever been,” says Morrow. “Our trade is ideas, information, entertainment and stories. Bookstores and books are a big part of the conversation about how we live with each other.”
In December, small business owner Jennifer Reynolds created gift baskets of items from her and other local businesses to give to businesses and families in Whitefish, Montana who were harassed by a hate group simply for being Jewish. Although the group also attempted to intimidate Reynolds, support dwarfed the hateful responses, which Reynolds said “empowered me and gave me the courage to stand up and not shrink away.” Her business, Tree Hugger Soap Company, also fared well — online orders skyrocketed and she quickly sold out of most products, which she is still working to restock.
Reynolds believes local businesses have a responsibility to take a public stand against bigotry. “If businesses are afraid to stand up, it doesn’t help Whitefish’s reputation” (in a region where white supremacist groups have a notable presence).
For more information about the Business Against Bigotry campaign and access to AMIBA’s “We Welcome Everybody” graphics, visit www.AMIBA.net/bab.