Putting Locals First
Story by Ryan Lorenzo
Inside Stinkweeds music store in central Phoenix, a customer sparks a conversation with owner Kimber Lanning, who stands behind the cash register of the shop she has owned since 1987. He raves with appreciation about this rare, independent music store while Lanning, who knows a thing or two about local business, concurs. "The majority of people who walk in here, I'll start a conversation with and I know who they are, and I know their life story," says Lanning. "I mean, what do you have if you don't have relationships? That's the gut of what local business is."
Lanning has certainly created a name for herself as a local store owner, but her main impact on our city has been as founder of the nonprofit foundation Local First Arizona, which strives to bring local commerce to the forefront of Arizona's economy. Lanning says that she didn't feel Phoenicians were connecting to their hometown like natives of other American cities do. "I just wanted to raise my hand and say, 'Well, I know why you aren't connecting to the city. You don't know where all the cool places are, and you don't know where the homegrown places are— I can help you.'"
With Local First, Lanning educates people on the broader financial benefits of shopping at the stores in their neighborhoods and promotes awareness of such stores with "Small Wonders," a mini-booklet that maps Central Phoenix's local stores and restaurants. This advocacy allows citizens to reap the benefits of neighborhood spending as more money goes back into the community. When she founded the organization in 2003 under the name Arizona Chain Reaction, Lanning simply intended to create a database with listings of all things local. In 2006, though, she sold her Tempe Stinkweeds location to devote her efforts to Local First full time. The organization's name was changed in 2007 to reflect its mission, and the group now boasts more than 1,400 members and 13 representatives on its board of directors. "As Local First Arizona grows, it becomes more apparent that we have the chance now to shift the future of Phoenix," she says. "That's the thing that keeps me going." While entrenched within the local business community, Lanning also works with the Phoenix government as a member of its Development Advisory Board. Though she is quick to note that she is not a politician, she researches issues, attends countless city council meetings and drafts policy proposals to encourage officials to focus locally for economic enhancement.
One of Lanning's current projects with Local First is to explore ways that older buildings built before current code can be reused now for business purposes. This protects the environment, Lanning says, since "the greenest building of all is an existing building." It's this emphasis on preserving what's local that reinforces Lanning's success as a nonprofit director, business owner and advocate in our community.