It means keeping our money here where it cannot be manipulated by treacherous Wall Street investments. It pleads with consumers to spend money in local businesses that are owned by local residents. Businesses founded by investments made by Long Islanders that result in profits staying here and circulating through our economy. It is a movement that dreams of providing our children with affordable housing alternatives and productive skilled employment. It is a notion whose time has come and kioli.org is where it resides.
Why Kioli? Why Now?
Things are bad. Things are bad and on their way to worse. There appears to be nothing that will slow the economic decline or stave off disaster for many companies and individuals who may or may not have seen this economic tsunami fast approaching. Dreams will be put on hold, growth plans laid to rest and a general unease will weave through our communities with every foreclosure sign that appears on a neighboring lawn. The economic crisis of 2008 has settled in hard and seems to have packed its suitcases for an extended stay.
All eyes will be on President-elect Obama in a way perhaps only the Greatest Generation could appreciate. Unfortunately, many of them are no longer around. Last week my colleague Michael Martino wrote in his column an achingly beautiful piece about his grandfather, who lived through the horror of World War II, a now distant time in our history, and how his stoic nature belied the tragedy of his era. While the children of the Great Depression are still around and able to revive memories of this period, the true fighters who were the Greatest Generation are languishing in nursing homes or have all but vanished. They were battle tested, first by the economy and then by the war. Time heals all wounds, and subsequent generations ignored the warnings of the elder population that it could all indeed happen again. And indeed, it may be.
Much is made, during difficult times, of the media’s complicity in financial and world crises. That it fans the flames of despair and delights in playing the role of a queer sort of doomsday cheerleader, reveling in the shared misery of human misfortune and economic decay. Bloody headlines sell newspapers and death boosts television ratings. I disagree.
The media didn’t manufacture this current crisis or any before it. At times it may accelerate the inevitable by casting light on the reality of a particular situation. But hastening the decline of an already tumultuous condition through reporting does not signify involvement; rather, it serves to remind us that the media is a mirror and, at times, our conscience.
I have the great honor of serving as the publisher of this newspaper. Our stated mission is to inform, entertain and educate the opinion leaders of Long Island. Yet beneath this noble enterprise, I am essentially a small business owner. There are only a handful of us who produce this newspaper and our related endeavors and we, too, are the homeowners and consumers caught up in the current economic malaise.
We have a daily staff meeting we call “the huddle.” First thing in the morning, we gather to discuss the business of our business. We share the stories for upcoming issues, review the competitive landscape, plan and project. Most days there is a great deal of laughter. It’s the kind of laughter that only comes from a close-knit workplace environment, like you would find at a family reunion dinner party. But I find it increasingly difficult to mask my grave concern for our economy and what it means for all of us and for all of Long Island. When our salespeople share the stories of the fear they are confronted with from current and prospective clients, the meaning is lost on no one. And the fear is deepening.
The green movement that we passionately advocate for will likely take a backseat to the economic woes of the Long Island consumer. Small cracks in our society will begin to show and some may grow into chasms. During strong economic times our population has the ability to be lulled through otherwise disastrous courses like two senselessly protracted wars and environmental suicide. During weak economic times we shamefully look back at these events and collectively wonder what we were thinking. James Carville is proved right once again.
It is the economy, stupid.
The stakes in this economy are high. We risk losing valuable contributions to the good work being done by local charities. We face the potential loss of multi-generational family businesses and the proposition that you can continue a legacy of a family business that serves a community as much as it provides a good or service. The comfort that comes from paying for a meal at your local greasy spoon and that the man behind the grill has children who play on the soccer field with your own. Kioli is the satisfaction of knowing that your dollar spent is a dollar earned by someone you know and that we have a shared responsibility to watch each other’s backs when the sledding gets a little too tough. When a local business dies, so too does a piece of our shared history and community. Not so with a big box store.
I listen—at times obsessively—to the reports on the radio of the challenges that face our economy. But it’s what I see that troubles me the most. It’s on the face of the retailer who jumps anxiously as you enter her store and the shared pressure knowing that you may represent her only sale for the day; it’s palpable but unspoken. It’s on the desperate faces of the auto dealers who sit helplessly in front of a consumer, unable to answer the question as to whether or not the American car you are considering will even be made next year. It’s in the voices of the countless people who are making “cold calls” for the first time to sell more of their products and services.
There is a significant connection between the stories of hard-working Long Islanders who are struggling to maintain both their jobs and their dignity and the work that lies ahead in rebuilding our nation. The next great leaders of our country will be the ones who are able to rise above the immediate challenges and keep their wits about them. I believe Long Island can lead the way and not only produce many of these leaders, but serve as an example of how to navigate the stormy seas of a dark recession.
At the turn of the most momentous century in the history of the world, the United States became a superpower under the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt and it was common for him to govern our nation from Long Island. When the United States sought to put a man on the moon, it came to Long Island to build the craft that would take us there and keep our astronauts safe. Lindbergh’s historic flight began on the airstrips at Mitchel Field and lifesaving genetic codes are being unveiled in our laboratories. These are the obvious examples most Long Islanders know by heart. There are thousands more small examples of how we have influenced the world from our tiny, often misunderstood, little part of the planet. It’s why I know so well that we can do it again.
But first, we have to take care of our own. We have to kioli.
Stop, Drop and Kioli
Before you spend a dime on anything, think about kioli. No matter what the good or service there is generally a Long Island solution to fulfill or provide it. For those of you who engage in the weekend ritual of Costco and Target binge shopping, attempting to kioli for the first time may seem daunting.
The general kioli rule of thumb is to spend money in as many places where the investment began on LI and the profits remain on LI. Franchises count as kioli-ing because the franchise owner is more often than not a local person. Unique local concepts owned by Long Islanders are even better. Consider the following scale:
Starbucks—Bad. You can’t buy a franchise and the profit goes to Seattle.
Dunkin Donuts—Better. You can buy a franchise and even though you pay them a franchise fee, the profits stay here.
Witches Brew—Best. Locally owned, locally operated and uniquely branded. The perfect triple threat. (It’s in West Hempstead, by the way)
Here are some helpful examples of how to kioli.
- Subscribe to Newsday. I do. There, I said it. To be clear, I can’t stand competing with them. They are a monopoly in the truest sense of the word, made worse by the fact that they are now owned by Cablevision. But you know what? They also employ thousands of Long Islanders and are the only media outlet to cover Long Island on a daily basis. From our viewpoint, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. The more we support our local daily paper with our subscriber dollars, the more people they can employ in the newsroom to keep reporting on Long Island instead of Newsday becoming one big receptacle of Associated Press news content. Every subscription is a down payment on our future by helping keep good journalists, pressmen and drivers employed.
- Shop locally. Did you know you can buy an iPod from P.C. Richard? That’s right, you don’t have to stand outside Best Buy the night before just to wait on a three-hour line once you find what you’re looking for. Better yet, let’s try to create Best Buy-type lines at P.C. Richard. It’s owned by the Richard family and has been here for 99 years. Next year will be their 100th anniversary. Let’s make sure they’re here another 100 years. Our Kioli Gift Guide in this issue highlights dozens of unique holiday gift items from other local retailers that you can’t get from a national chain store.
- Before you go to amazon.com, go to the Book Revue in Huntington. It’s far more thoughtful to spend time browsing in a bookstore when you’re searching for the perfect gift. I love amazon.com as much as the next shopper but when it comes to experience, nothing beats walking around a local bookstore with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the musty feel of the used-book section. Treat yourself to a great experience and treat the person you’re shopping for to something a little more personal and considerate than an amazon.com gift card.
- King Kullen was the first supermarket in America. Think about that. The good news is that they’re everywhere. It has never been easier to kioli on a weekly basis than to keep King Kullen thriving. If you really want to kioli when it comes to food shopping, find a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. You can purchase a share in a local CSA that helps support local farmers, which has a few benefits outside of receiving food at a competitive price. First of all, it’s all healthy food. Secondly, it helps support local farmers who are struggling to farm for a living and could otherwise flip their properties and get paid handsomely by developers. Lastly, supporting these farms is a terrific way to preserve open space and teach your children the value of a self-sufficient food supply.
I purposely chose these examples because our organization doesn’t profit from them. Newsday has been trying to put us out of business since we began. King Kullen and P.C. Richard have never felt the need to advertise with us because they are large enough to have achieved total name recognition and saturation on Long Island. The Book Revue just doesn’t advertise.
The point is that the so-called “big boys,” even the homegrown ones, rarely give us a second look despite being one of the largest weeklies in the nation. The advertisers in the Press have always been small and mid-sized local businesses that we have developed a strong relationship with. Their successes are our successes; therefore, their failures are our failures. The disquieting challenges our clients will face will be more painful due to these relationships. Because of our involvement, we are unable to practice emotional avoidance during the bad times. The key is not to allow them to get to that point.
Kioli is our contribution to the people and businesses in the Long Island community. A simple exercise such as marking your initials on a dollar bill to track where it’s spent is enough of an experiment to know how quickly money changes hands in our economy. The dollar in your pocket today that buys that cup of coffee that goes toward the hourly wage of the person who served it, who in turn spends it at the gas station, and so on, and so on… The game here is to keep circulating our wealth in a concentrated geographic area. It’s a sustainable economic philosophy that smacks of protectionism, but these are extraordinary times that call for it.
The economic deck is stacked against Long Island. Albany continues to drain our local economy to fund the upstate depression and New York City budget gaps. And that spread is going only going to widen. Every year they suck out billions from the local taxpayer only to return something on the order of 60 percent of it back to us. Because we’re left holding the bag, we’re going to have to be more discerning about how and where we spend our money.
Kioli.org takes aim at all things Long Island. We asked several of our business partners and friends to help us create a unique online existence to help consumers and business alike keep it on LI. The site is raw and bare bones. It’s straightforward and you know where it’s coming from. Certain sections are slightly irreverent and you may at times detect a slight attitude. But all in all, it’s well-intentioned, good-natured and honest.
In other words, it’s Long Island.
This article originally appeared in the November 20th, 2008 edition of the Long Island Press.
The Long Island Press is the original founding member of kioli.org.