Grand Rapids celebrates a decade of “Local First” with massive street party Saturday

May 31, 2013

More than 10,000 people are expected at a street party in Grand Rapids Saturday to celebrate all things local.

Locals bands, local food, and of course local beer; brewed special for the party with locally produced honey. It’s the biggest fundraiser of the year for Local First, a non-profit that supports locally owned businesses throughout West Michigan. It's their 10th anniversary.

Executive Director Elissa Hillary says if everyone in Kent County shifted 10% of their purchases to locally owned businesses, it would create 1,600 jobs.

“It’s important for us to just be aware that our daily choices have an impact and that they can have an incredibly positive impact,” Hillary said, “So if we’re making choices to support businesses in our community we’re essentially choosing to support people who live in our community.”

Hillary says Local First isn’t just about locally-owned businesses in West Michigan. It's part of a movement across the country to reinvest in privately-held, local businesses.

“I really like that when I go up to Traverse City that I can have cherries and I can have whitefish; things that make that place unique. And that’s what ‘local first’ is about. It’s about supporting people in those places and also the things that make those places special,” Hillary said.

Hillary says the "buy local" movement got a boost during the recession, when corporations were downsizing. But she thinks it’s more than a fad, mainly because of economic reasons.

“But I think local makes sense for a whole array of reasons,” she added. When it comes to food, for example, Hillary says locally grown produce is usually fresher so it tastes better and in many cases is more nutritious and cheaper than produce shipped from thousands of miles away.

The big street party this Saturday in Grand Rapids is free and about seventy-five times as big as the inaugural party, back in 2003.