by Rebecca Melancon, Executive Director
Our longtime president, Steve Bercu, has retired. Steve was the lead founder of AIBA and has served as president of sixteen years. We honored Steve at the 5th Annual Armadillo Awards on April 26 with a special Lifetime Dillo Award. The award included a book, “The Legend of Steve” that told (tongue-in-cheek) the story of Steve.
All great movements have a beginning—that moment when a spark ignites and takes hold in peoples hearts and minds. At that moment, a leader emerges. If successful, in time the leader becomes a legend. Robin Hood, Joan of Arc, Steve Jobs, all forged a new path onward through the forest, through the trees, through technology and through the fog. For the localist movement in Austin, Texas, that moment, that spark, that leader…was Steve Bercu.
It all began in 2001 when Steve, then just a bookstore owner, returned from a conference where the value of local business was discussed. The spark was ignited. Steve gathered local business owners for happy hour (of course) at the now-departed Momo’s. Locally owned publications advertised the event and a great crowd gathered.
Steve explained that it might be a good idea to organize and create a nonprofit that represented locally-owned, independent businesses, not the giant corporate chains. What a concept from the mind of Steve! The crowd cheered. “We could do a website and a brochure!” said Steve. And the crowd roared. “We could promote shopping locally!” he yelled. And the crowd went wild. Thus the Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA) was born—not just an organization but a movement.
It took another year and finding his way through some very dense fog to form the nonprofit and recruit a Board of Directors. But Steve persisted.
Now the organization needed members. Remember, at this time Steve was a mere bookstore owner. How was he to get the masses of independent businesses to join in his crusade? How does this go from a few like-minded business owners to a movement? Call to Arms? Riots? Marches? No, these tactics were just too…too…big…too soon. Being a leader, (Yes, Steve was now a leader) Steve knew the answer. More importantly he had the wisdom and the technology to proceed. In a blaze of progressive thought, Steve declared “I’ll call them!” And so he did.
What happened next is what ultimately happens in every great crusade. The people come to the call of the voice of a leader. The Voice of Steve launched the Voice of Local. They came individually at first. Then by the tens, then by the hundreds. All finding their way onward through the fog answering the call of Steve.
Still, questions lingered. What is this AIBA? Is it a chamber of commerce? Technically yes, but no one wanted to be THE chamber or even chamber-like. Friendly? Supportive? Yes. Still something was lacking. But what? Steve came through the fog and in a blinding bolt of thought, he said “Weird. We should Keep Austin Weird.” Of course we know that a man called Red had first uttered those words. But now we had a mission—To Keep Austin Weird through independent business. The fog thinned.
AIBA became known throughout the land as a badass organization. For years, Steve traveled throughout the land telling others about the local movement. Sharing his enlightenment, he persisted and the local movement grew.
As word spread, Steve, the bookstore owner then leader, became a Legend.