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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Shopping "local first" is the wrong approach if you want Cheyenne's downtown to grow and innovate

You can’t walk downtown in the Capital City without getting slapped in the face.
The signs on the lampposts read: SHOP LOCAL FIRST. DOWNTOWN CHEYENNE.
It’s a patriotic call to duty. “Your local businesses deserve your support. They are local. Their owners live here. You should keep your money here.”
NO, NO, and NO! 
This is exactly the wrong approach if you want downtown to bloom and Cheyenne to become the thriving community you hope it will become.
“But it’s our duty to help those who are trying to survive downtown.” That is certainly your first response.
That is just the problem, however. If you don’t make the downtown business ecosystem earn your support, rather than simply lying back and arguing that you have to buy whatever sub-par items it offers, exciting things will not happen here.
Consider this. Where was Cheyenne’s entertainment scene even five years ago? And where
One of the "shop local" signs on Capitol Avenue.
is it now? Why do you think the Civic Center is rocking, that Fridays on the Plaza are rolling and performers like Sir Mix a Lot are roaring here? It’s because city leaders decided they had enough of young people rolling out to Fort Collins, Denver and elsewhere along the Front Range on Fridays and Saturdays.
Would there be a Cheyenne Comic Con? Or a tattoo festival? No way. It’s only because you went southward that things are beginning to break loose in the Capital City.
It’s about competition. That is what sharpens an eco-environment and builds a community from a dull bore to a loud roar.
Why should you simply accept what downtown is offering – as weak and incompetent as some of its offerings can be – simply because it is “local”? Rather, if money continues to flow southward, downtown will have to up its game. If you commit to spending your money only in Cheyenne because it’s the “right” thing to do, this city’s eco-economic system will not innovate and grow bolder and more exciting.
You want another example? Try the craft beer industry. Just south of Cheyenne lies one of craft beer epicenters of American. From Fort Collins to Denver lie some of the best breweries in the world. The flow of money south to beer heaven has spurred the growth and the quality of three breweries in the Capital City, and more of that is coming with the addition of Black Tooth from Sheridan just over the horizon. 
Again, competition from the south has upped this city’s beer scene. And it will continue do so as the competition sharpens among city competitors – whose current offerings are often weak and lazy – as well as with those who make world-class brew to the south.
Cheyenne residents must not accept the meager offerings of downtown simply because they are downtown. It is only when you vote with your feet – and with your money – that you will help make downtown so much smarter and better that you won’t wantto go to Fort Collins, or Denver, or wherever else on a weekend.
Consider one final business opportunity: restaurants. Mexican, Chinese, pizza and beef make up the major offerings downtown – and some of those aren’t very good. Not a vegetarian eatery in sight. In fact, you have to work hard to even find vegan or vegetarian options.
Indian food? Cajun? Noodles? Other food trends? You won’t find them here. Nor will you find reasonably priced food items. The Metropolitan has opened downtown. Big deal. It is priced for the locals with money, not the young people who struggle to make ends meet. 
I know, I know. It is blasphemy to even imply that Cheyenne is not the epicenter of the universe. And to say that, yes, there are things south of the border that actually are better than what the Capital City has to offer.
But if you accept the “Shop Local First” pitch and let the eco-economic system guilt you into settling for less than the best, you will continue to fertilize the laziness, incompetence and unwillingness to compete that have reigned here far too long.
 Hell, downtown businesses can’t even find the gumption to stay open on Friday and Saturday nights to serve the crowds that roll in and out of the Plaza. They can do better, and they will learn to do so only as they are required to compete for your dollars on your terms.

D. Reed Eckhardt is the former executive editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

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