Jon O'Toole (GRAND, BzzAgent & Somerville Local First)

Jon O’Toole
Co-Founder: GRAND & BzzAgent
Board President: Somerville Local First

-Political orientation
I would say probably socially liberal. The older I get the more fiscally conservative I get.

Born and raised catholic, I haven’t been to church in over 10 years but don’t tell anyone.


-Job/Title/Role in Community
I have two things that I’m doing right now…they’re both equally important in my eyes. One is, I’m co-founder of a contemporary home furnishings and apparel store in Union Square (GRAND) and the other is in 2002 I, along with a couple other folks, founded a company which is about 700,000 volunteers that participate in these word of mouth marketing campaigns that we run. (BzzAgent)

My role in the community in Somerville is…I’m a neighbor of everyone else in my community. Not only do I own a business in my community, I also live in my community. I offer a unique perspective from both worlds.

-What is your relationship with the Local Indie Community?
If I did not have them, I would not exist, as far as GRAND the store is concerned. They are absolutely partners and they are absolutely necessary for my success. I can not live without them, it’s as simple as that.

-Which local biz would you and your community miss most if it were gone. Why?
I can think of two businesses off the top of my head that if they were not there…literally every day it would affect me. Those are two coffee shops that are in Union Square, Bloc 11 & Sherman Café. I can not live without either of them. I mean just from a caffeine perspective, but also from a community standpoint…they are hubs where people connect and talk to each other and communicate with one another.

-If your local indie community was an Animal, what would it be and why?
An Elephant. The reason why….Elephants are huge, powerful but they are also very nice. That’s the way I think about the community. They’re so powerful. They have so many opinions….they shop in my store, I can’t live without them.

-What one piece of advice from your organizing can you share with the other people and organizations who will see this?
A lot of what made me successful is listening. You have to listen to people. And you have to reach out to the people that don’t speak out. Start to focus and look at some of the folks in the room who don’t speak out, because they may have many ideas they’re just hesitant for whatever reason to articulate those ideas…Most of the stuff that gets me to where I am today has much to do with listening to folks.

-If you had a message to deliver to all the other organizations and people who are part of this movement, what would it be?
The whole movement of “shopping locally” and the whole 10% Shift and things like that. Its important, it seems within the last year there’s been a cultural and an economic shift to thinking really about how you spend your dollar. If you’re going to spend your dollar, theres so much positivity if you spend that dollar at a local business.

I hope that 5-10 years from now…with the way that the cultural shift is going, that this will be the accepted norm that we focus on spending your money, your hard earned money, in the community that you live in.

Hear the full interview here
Watch the video here
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