Everyone says the same thing: it’s a win-win situation.
The La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation and LCF Merchants Connection have partnered to fulfill two different goals at once. The Merchants Connection encourages people to shop La Cañada and generate commerce for local businesses, while the foundation supports the La Cañada Unified School District.
On June 15 the two different entities that have faced financial challenges joined forces to make La Cañada a better place for them both. They started a program known as “Foundation on the 15th” or “Shop La Cañada Days,” where some 35 businesses in the city donated a percentage of what they made that day to the educational foundation, which in turn goes to the local public schools.
“This is going to happen every month,” said Karen Cornell, a member of the foundation’s executive committee. “So we’re really hoping people remember to go out and help their schools on the 15 of every month by shopping in La Cañada. We plan on doing this forever.”
In just one month, the program has grown, with several more businesses joining this month to bring the total closer to 40.
“We are doing this event along with the Foundation because people will still support the schools if they don’t support the community,” said Sue Stranger, owner of Adobe gift shop and organizer of the merchants association.
While the school district deals with financial uncertainty from looming cutbacks in state funding, local stores are impacted by an economy that has turned big spenders into spendthrifts — and La Cañada residents who travel outside of the city to do business.
“We’re trying to build a bigger sense of community and community pride,” Cornell said. “The number one value of almost everyone in La Cañada are the schools, if we can get people to support both their merchants and their schools at the same time then we have done our job.”
Each business chooses how much they will give, depending on their own situation. Some give three percent, others give 20% of what they generate that day.
Cornell arranged the program for the foundation and Stranger recruited merchants to participate. The event is an expansion on an idea Charlie Kamar has practiced for the past eight years at his La Cañada Union 76 gas station on the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Alta Canyada Road. For the past eight years, Kamar has been donating 10% of what he makes one day a month to the foundation.
Kamar’s idea was a success because of his partnership with the district schools. They got the word out by reminding parents as the day rolled around each month. He said the cross-promotion benefited his business, the foundation and La Cañada schools.
Kamar said he typically brings in 12 to 15% more business on the 15th of the month than on other days. His program has allowed him to donate about $6,000 to the foundation since he started the practice..
“It has worked perfectly and you can see it in your business,” Kamar said. “Your percentage and volume is higher than any other day.”
Kamar has a son, George, in second grade at Palm Crest Elementary, but he was working with the Foundation before he had a child — or was even married.
“Anything like this you do in La Cañada is a win-win situation because people appreciate it so much,” Kamar said. “It seems like everyone has a kid in one of the schools.”
Zora Yasseri, owner of Cakery Bakery in La Cañada said her business participated in the Shop La Cañada Days on June 15 and experienced a 20% increase in sales over previous Tuesdays.
“It is a good cause and a win-win situation,” Yasseri said. “The Foundation does something for us by getting our name out there and we can give back to them and the schools. It wasn’t hard to decide to participate.”
Businesses participating in the program have a La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation logo on their storefront and balloons and flags flying outside their shop on the 15th of the month.
Shop La Cañada Days is just one of the events the merchants are putting on to deal with the slow summer months that come with being a small business owner in La Cañada.
“It is tough because a lot of people do go away during the summer because they have summer homes out of town,” Yasseri said. “You look at the traffic on Foothill and it just isn’t there. It is hard to hang in there especially if you have a high overhead.”
One of the main things the LCF Merchants Connection is looking to do is unite the different small businesses to help each other out through cooperative advertising and becoming familiar with the other businesses in town so they can refer customers to another store if they come looking for an item they don’t carry.
The most important thing, Stranger said, is that the money stays in La Cañada.
“Just because you live in La Cañada doesn’t mean you shop in La Cañada,” Stranger said.
Now shoppers will have extra incentive to open their wallets in the town they call home.
“We give to the schools and in turn we get recognized,” Stranger said. “We have people coming into our shop who never even knew we existed. That is the payback, we give but we get recognition. Together the foundation and merchants are going to help the schools, whatever the state doesn’t fund we fund, it is a win-win for everybody.”