Three and a half years ago, Laura Clise found herself feeling extremely frustrated.
It was February, and Clise and her wife wanted to commemorate Black History Month by going out for meals at Black-owned restaurants. A socially-conscious consumer, she was dismayed over how difficult it was to find any resources with accurate information.
She began putting together a list of Seattle’s Black-owned restaurants that would one day become Intentionalist, a website that provides consumers with comprehensive lists of small businesses locally owned by people from marginalized communities.
“I knew that there were a growing number of consumers who care, and small businesses who need our support, so why was it so hard to find them?” asked Clise. “There had to be a better way. So, Intentionalist was created to provide people with the desire to be more intentional with their everyday spending with an easy way to search and find diverse small businesses and get to know the people behind them.”
Clise sports Intentionalists' 'Spend Like It Matters' shirt (left) and poses alongside Jerk Shack owner Trey Lamont (right) | Photos courtesy of Laura Clise
Fast forward a couple of years, and now you can now make a quick visit to Intentionalist’s website, where you can search and filter for local small businesses – current categories include Black-owned, Asian-owned, Latino-owned, Native-owned, Disability-owned, LGBTQ-owned, Family-owned, Social Enterprise, Veteran-owned and Women-owned – in 15 cities and seven states across the country, including six cities in Washington. Intentionalist is now the most comprehensive online guide to diverse small brick & mortar businesses, and continues to grow based on a crowd-sourced model.
“Our vision has been clear from the beginning,” noted Clise. “We’re working to spark a global intentional spending movement. We believe that where we spend our money matters, and that when we’re intentional about supporting the people behind the small businesses in our communities, we create connections that build community and shape the kind of world and society that we want to live, work and play in.”
With the country undergoing overwhelming change, both in response to COVID-19 and a wave of protests seeking to end systemic racism, Clise has been blown away not only by consumers waking up to the power of their spending decisions, but by the leadership she’s witnessed from small business owners. It would be easy for them to just focus on and fight for their own business’ survival. Instead, the unprecedented nature of this moment has been a catalyst for forging the bonds that connect these stores and restaurants to the communities they serve, as local institutions have altered their operations to provide resources for those most impacted.
Clise visits with Rodney Hines, owner of Metier Brewing, and Edouardo Jordan, who owns JuneBaby, a classic southern fare restaurant off Ravenna
“It has been a time of incredible hardship and devastation for so many small businesses,” said Clise. “And yet, I have never been so inspired by the small business owners that we’re fortunate to know. Not only because they’re demonstrating grit and determination, but because at a time where their future is incredibly uncertain, they have pivoted their businesses into community kitchens, and carved out time, space and resources to help those most in need.”
Intentionalist has grown rapidly in the past two years with a focus on closing the gap between the consumer desire to spend intentionally and actually taking action. As Clise looks toward the future, Intentionalist will continue to close the convenience gap between these small businesses and consumers who care, empowering all of us to spend our hard-earned dollars at the local diverse brick-and-mortar businesses that provide the backbone of the economy. Moreover, Intentionalist is increasingly partnering with non-profit organizations and corporations to help them more directly support Main Street small businesses.
“At Intentionalist we believe that convenience is a means, not an end,” she said. “What we’re really playing for in the big picture is a shift in the culture of consumer spending - from one that today is more about convenient transaction toward more intentional, relational investment in our communities.”
Clise chats with Bridgette Johnson, who owns Central Cafe and Juice Bar in the Central District
Ultimately, Clise is hopeful that people realize that the purchasing decisions that people make on a day-to-day basis - where to buy a cup of coffee, where to shop for a birthday gift, where to get takeout for lunch - can have a major impact on the communities we all love and call home.
“The everyday decisions that we make about where we eat, drink and shop truly make a difference when it comes to the community and city that we live in,” said Clise. “We can directly contribute to shaping a more sustainable, equitable, just society when we’re more intentional about the money that we spend. Or, in Intentionalist parlance, when we take the time to spend like it matters, because it does.”
You can learn more about Intentionalist HERE.