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Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011 05:52 pm

’Tis the season for shopping ‘local first’

This week the Capital Area Independent Business Alliance launches its second annual SHOP LOCAL FIRST HOLIDAY SWEEPSTAKES. More than half of the 200-plus businesses that belong to the alliance are participating in the six-week “register to win” campaign. Each week 20 lucky “local first” shoppers will each win more than $75 in gifts and prizes – all donated by the participating merchants. There are 141 colorful entry boxes all over town – inviting shoppers who visit a participating bank, restaurant, retail shop, gallery or service provider to slip another registration form in the contest box. You are encouraged to register early and register often.

The campaign’s objective is simple: to encourage consumers (that’s you and me) to keep our money “home for the holiday” by first choosing to shop (or eat, patronize) a locally owned, independent business before heading off to a national big box chain. Whether you’re on a mission to buy a box of fine chocolates, a gift card for dining or a dazzling diamond-clad bobble, there is definitely a local option … and an entrepreneur waiting to sell it to you.

Speaking of entrepreneurs, isn’t it encouraging to see how many new locally owned businesses have popped up since early 2011?

The good folks at downtown’s Hilton just opened two beautiful new businesses high atop the city – the Pinnacle Club (a sultry cocktail lounge that feels more like Manhattan than Springfield) and Nick and Nino’s (this new ‘chop house’ addition adds to the already four-star downtown lineup.) The view from the 30th floor is as spectacular as ever –- but don’t take my word for it. Go, see, eat!

There are quite a few new independent businesses downtown – including The Spice of Life (rounding out a trio of shops that feature the work of local artisans), a new home for the Prairie Art Alliance’s Gallery II (bigger better space on the south Old State Capitol Plaza) and three more downtown restaurants, including Gian Franco (also on the south Old Capitol Plaza), the Brickhouse II (between Adams and Monroe on Fifth) and The Golden Frog (a charming breakfast, lunch spot on the north Old Capitol Plaza). Round the corner and you’ll discover Abe’s Old Hat Country Store (where Amish jelly shares shelf space with seasonal dried flowers and candles that smell like thyme).

Drive any direction from downtown to find even more local options. There’s the rejuvenated Legacy Theatre (alive with entertainment) and Boone’s Saloon (same name but got a facelift). Welcome back to Boyd’s New Generation Restaurant (reopened on South Grand after a fire), Good Tequila’s and Abe’s Southside Café (two fresh dining options on South Sixth). Casa Real is a new player on the north end. Twist n Swirlz brought yogurt to the west side, American Harvest Eatery (where every meal has “local” written all over it) and Bows & Britches, a family friendly resale shop. And who can keep up with Head West, with two new locations this year?

Nowhere is busier than the MacArthur corridor: PJP Auto is back and bigger than ever. The Paper Boutique (a haven for crafty folks) who scored the best real estate in town has new neighbors in Porter’s Premier Cleaners, La Loma Mexican Restaurant, T4 Nail Salon and Fezzywigs. Later this week the Supreme Buffet will open its doors at Town and Country Shopping Center.

High fives to all the independent-minded folks with the courage and vision to step into these crazy economic times with the confidence to start a new business. Congratulations to these and every independent business owner – ever the optimists who open their doors each day hoping you’ll be stopping by any minute now.

Sharon Whalen, publisher of Illinois Times, is a board member of Capital Area Independent Business Alliance.
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