Austin Independent Business Alliance 2002–2024: A Long Run of Advocacy Comes to a Close

In 2000, Steve Bercu and Emily Miller felt drowned out as the City of Austin sought to attract national retail chains. Steve had founded the city’s best-known bookstore, BookPeople, while Emily ran Juice Joint, another local favorite. They wondered: why would their city council do that? Shouldn’t someone stand up for local business?

In 2001, the city’s approval of a plan to build a new Borders Books and Records across the street from BookPeople and Waterloo Records, both Austin local businesses, sparked a new round of controversy. In response, a small group of business leaders founded the Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA), a non-profit association to promote local businesses. Those dedicated volunteers included Bercu, Waterloo’s John Kunz, publisher Rebecca Melançon, and activist Mike Blizzard, among others.

Today, as we celebrate AIBA’s work over twenty-plus years of strong advocacy and tireless support for locally owned businesses in Austin, we must also say goodbye.

As of May 2024, AIBA has made the difficult and carefully considered decision to cease operations. As this chapter closes, we want to reflect and share our deep gratitude for all the support—indeed the love—from our members, community, and friends.

Over the years, AIBA has helped build an appreciation for the uniqueness and value of locally owned businesses. We were one of the originals to share Keep Austin Weird bumper stickers back when the slogan was new.
AIBA wanted to answer the question, “Why buy local?” We commissioned Civic Economics, a local economic research firm, to study the multiplier effects of buying locally. The study found that 25-45% more money stayed in the local economy when people bought from locally-owned businesses instead of shopping at national chains. It wasn’t just a nice idea; it was of mutual benefit for everyone.

Realizing that local businesses often clustered together in neighborhood corridors, AIBA invented the Independent Business Investment Zone (IBIZ) program.

IBIZ districts created a shared group identity for each neighborhood area and helped these local neighborhood business groups grow their audience. Partially funded for a time by the City of Austin, IBIZ grew into a nationally awarded program. Now in local members’ hands, IBIZ districts continue to thrive.

In 2010, AIBA convened the first Small Local Business Summit to help business owners have a voice with the City. The resulting discussions allowed AIBA to write the Local Business Manifesto, a statement of priorities and requests for help from City leaders. Over the following years, the City implemented many of these ideas.

Celebrating local businesses also took the form of seriously fun events: The Armadillo Awards, boat cruises on Lady Bird Lake, educational luncheons, breakfast talks at BookPeople, and too many happy hours to count. All let us share knowledge, good spirits (and woes), and the joy of thriving together.

We also told unique Austin stories in our vividly curated IndieAustin print directory. You can still see gorgeous cover artwork with pictures of local business stars hanging on walls all over town.

In 2020, AIBA faced new challenges. As the pandemic unfolded, changing times required our members and AIBA to slow down and focus on survival.

When I became the AIBA Executive Director in 2021, I immersed myself in the organization’s history and launched into the future by asking: What is our purpose now? We renamed AIBA to ALBA—the Austin Local Business Alliance—and focused on the current needs of the local business community.

As we continued working with our members and the community, we witnessed how well people understood the preciousness and importance of our local businesses, which had been recently threatened by difficult circumstances beyond their control.

As challenging as it was to continue the organization’s work, we realized we had achieved so many of our original goals.

AIBA has shown that supporting locally owned businesses is key to a healthy community.

AIBA has seen Austin celebrated locally and nationally as a haven for unique businesses.

AIBA has also spread the idea of supporting local businesses everywhere. Austin businesses recreate themselves daily, and we are immensely grateful for our community, which helps them continue this vital work.

I want to personally thank the Board of Directors for staying the course during the last few tumultuous years: President Janet Krueger, Secretary Kevin Lewis, Michael Searle, and Hill Abell—all for allowing me to take the reins of this legacy. I appreciate them more than they’ll ever know!

With lots and lots of local love,

April Ritzenthaler
Acting Executive Director

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Local = Love

You ever wonder why so many people are attracted to Austin?  Besides its natural jewels like Barton Springs and the numerous creeks and waterways we orient around, we love to create!  This spirit of creativity is the basis for our vibrant city’s culture – and why we love to live here.  And when we love to live somewhere, we love to contribute to our community.  Every local business owner is doing this – loving their community by providing the service that comes from their heart.  Austin Local Business Alliance is the only Chamber of Commerce in the Austin area that requires our members to be locally-owned.  This sets apart what you find in the pages of this site – businesses where you know the owners, your children go to school together, and you participate together in the myriads of activities and hobbies that Austinites are in love with.  

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