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Independent businesses in downtown Detroit Lakes have much to gain if "The 3/50 Project" gains traction, The initiative asks local residents to think of three independent businesses they would miss if closed and then spend $50 per month among the three to stimulate the local economy. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)

Saving Main Street USA

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The decline of Main Street USA is a new trend as more and more businesses national chains have opened their door.

The Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce hopes that a more positive approach helps keep independent businesses in the region open.

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Mary Beth Gilsdorf, vice president and co-owner of Norby's Department Store in Detroit Lakes, read about the 3/50 Project in a trade newsletter in April.

She said that with the economy in a recession, the project seemed to be a good idea for businesses in the lakes area to embrace.

"When you're looking at storefronts, the margin of error is small," Gilsdorf said.

Independent businesses do not have a national marketing team behind them, nor can they absorb losses as well as national chains, she said.

"It's important to stick together here," Gilsdorf said.

The 3/50 Project aims to keep retail spending local.

The basic premise is that shoppers would think of the three stores they would miss the most if they closed.

"Make an effort to stop in those shops," Gilsdorf said.

The other part of the program is spending $50 a month among the three favorite stores.

According to the 3/50 Project, if half of the employed population of the nation spent $50 in independent stores, it would generate over $42 billion in revenue.

Another statistic the 3/50 Project cites is that for every $100 spent locally, $68 comes back into the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures.

Only $43 stays locally if that $100 is spent in a national chain store.

"It's a more positive spin on shopping locally," Gilsdorf said.

Making a difference

She said that if 10,000 people in the lakes area spent $50, simple math would mean $500,000 a month in sales for independent stores.

"It makes a big difference," she said.

Anything from buying a birthday gift, gas or toothpaste are examples of what could be bought at an independent store instead buying it in Fargo while on a shopping trip.

"It doesn't take much," she said.

She said that buying everything locally isn't realistic, but since it's only $50 spread over three stores, it should be within reach of many people.

"You can save pennies, but you're paying for it somewhere else," Gilsdorf said of what could happen if businesses close, leading to a decline in a city's economy.

Most people Gilsdorf has talked to about the plan have been receptive, she said.

"They get it. It makes sense and you're giving some empowerment to them."

Project launching soon

The plan is to get Chamber members on board through small marketing kits.

Gilsdorf envisions businesses mentioning the 3/50 Project in their own advertising to help spread the word.

"We're trying to get the buzz going," she said.

More information on the 3/50 Project is available at www.the350project.net.

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