By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — A grassroots coalition that has worked for 13 years to encourage shoppers to support local businesses is indefinitely ending its official operations.
Winnebago Buy Local said Thursday that while its nonprofit will cease operations, it hopes to pass the torch to other entrepreneurs who will carry on the mission.
The organization was formed by Lauren V. Davis, Frank Schier and other business owners in 2010 to help local business owners feel less isolated and create a network of support aimed at helping entrepreneurs flourish. It affected more than 1,000 business owners during its tenure and brought the conversation about the importance of supporting local business to the forefront.
“While Winnebago Buy Local will not return in its original form, we are all looking forward to the future. With the knowledge, application and implementation we learned serving this community for the last 13 years, we know that whenever small business owners collaborate, it will be successful,” Davis said in a news release. “Winnebago County business owners have a grit that cannot be contained or put to rest. What will come in the future will be new and exciting.”
Davis said she needed to step away to focus on her health, and the majority of the board decided not to carry on without her.
Winnebago Buy Local was known to some for its annual holiday market. Others may recognize the stickers in business windows that served as a reminder shoppers were supporting their local community.
It also held an annual kick-off event for local business, attended by more than 120 entrepreneurs and operators each year. And, it put on conferences, namely #SocialRockConf and #WBLGrow, to facilitate conversations with nationally recognized experts who could help local business owners grow.
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“Like any community, Winnebago County had its challenges over the last couple of years, but having the Winnebago Buy Local community created an integral web and network that built a sense of community and camaraderie that helped many business owners stay in business,” Jake Bradt, a board member and the founder and owner of Rockford Buzz, said in a news release. “Nothing is worse than feeling alone, and the businesses of Winnebago Buy Local continued to show up and rally for each other and for their belief in this community.”
Winnebago Buy Local also hosted monthly and bi-monthly networking events, and its website had a directory of local businesses as well as information about how buying from local businesses helps the community.
Its most recent board was comprised of Davis, Bradt, Joshua Binning, Julie Borck, Kristan McNames, Cindy Dimke, Jon Weber, Kate Wirth and Skyler Davis.
“I want to thank the past and present board members of Winnebago Buy Local. They have helped raise awareness about the importance of buying locally and have helped countless businesses,” Mayor Tom McNamara said. “I hope our residents continue to patronize local businesses, help our economy and support our neighbors.”
The group thanked its volunteers and past and present board members for their hundreds of hours of dedication to the mission. It also thanked the cities, townships and other organizations who supported Winnebago Buy Local. Davis also thanked Schier, the late owner of the Rock River Times, for challenging her to run the organization.
“Over the years, we have been excited to see the push to buy local as well as the growth of other local business support organizations, as we have always had a ‘more than merrier outlook,’” Davis said. “We wanted local businesses to succeed, period. As an organization, we are comfortable saying we worked hard to achieve the goals we set, time and time again to the extent of our grassroots resources. As we pause and look to the future, we look forward to supporting and cheering on all organizations that continue to support our initial mission.”