MINNEAPOLIS - Having been an independent stationery store owner for 14 years, Cinda Baxter understood the pain felt by retailers when the economy sank and consumers held back. What began as an economic downturn in the autumn had become a psychological tsunami.

What the country needed, in her opinion, was a meeting of the minds between two groups that held valuable stakes in the game - small business owners and members of their communities. Enter The 3/50 Project.

With a tag line "Save your local economy three stores at a time," the project's goal is to promote shopping in locally owned businesses while thanking customers for the positive impact that decision has on a local economy.

"We ask consumers to think about which three stores they would miss if they disappeared, then remind them to return there," explains Baxter. "Shoppers have become so rooted in thinking about the essentials that they have forgotten about the little gift store on the corner whose owner remembers their name."

"Fifty comes from the idea that if even half the employed population spent a mere $50 per month in locally owned retail stores, those purchases would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue," she continues. "That is a huge impact for a relatively small investment."

For every $100 spent in locally-owned stores, $68 remains in a community's economy. By contrast, only $43 per $100 remains local when spent in national chains; little or no revenue results from online purchases.

In essence, the whole thing boils down to "Pick 3, spend 50, save the economy."

Given the level of interest, a dedicated Web site has been established to promote the movement, link to the free flyer, and list participating retailers and other supporters. It can be found at: (http://the350project.org)

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