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Paul Miller, along with co-owner Tina Bologna, owns and operates a local artisan store in Morristown, New Jersey. They turned a temporary one-month community sale of local artisan goods into a full-fledged business. They set up this business with the noble purpose of helping local communities grow by providing them with a platform to showcase their talent and products. A large part of the proceeds go back to the artists, and are invested back in to the community. This submission covers the in-person interview with Paul, and his thoughts about how businesses can contribute towards a sustainable planet.
The work that Paul has done in education, his local community and local government has helped to instill the values and principles of sustainability. This has ultimately helped their business establish relevance quickly.
This ideology of community fostered expansion and people’s commitment to shopping and eating locally is something important to him. Furthermore, supporting local producers has helped to retain money in the local economy and therefore support local schools and create greater faith in institutions and local municipalities. Paul aspires to "Doing Well by Doing Good." If one were to look at the basic premise of opening a local store, the innovation was to commit to only selling items that come from the local economy. One can sell items made anywhere, yet Paul made a fundamental decision that they were only going to sell items which served the local and regional statewide economy.
This invariably presents as many challenges as opportunities. Based on this business model, the local economic impact has been substantial. Paul hopes to replicate it for the entire state of New Jersey. His customers are asking for items shaped like the state of New Jersey or ones that say New Jersey. The business provides feedback to their vendors, and they now have jewelry in the shape of the state of New Jersey, towels with the Garden State, vegetables and fruits related to the state, and more. The business has used reclaimed lumber cut out in the shape of the state of New Jersey and basically anything and everything with the shape of New Jersey on it that anyone would have ever thought about. Although they have not crossed the line; they fundamentally refuse to become a boardwalk type of shop. Their business is pretty upscale for this community because that is what suits the market. The shop carries many items from decorative housewares, functional items, and others within disparate categories in which customers request and are interested in.
Paul's leadership has made it all possible and comes from within. He and his wife go to great lengths; they eat only local, organic, drive hybrids, and get 100% green electricity at home. When traveling, they stay in green hotels, B&Bs, and buy carbon credits. They use the emerging system of tradeoffs as much as possible. Their whole lives are based upon this theory of “feel good factors,” which is why he wanted to communicate the value of this innovation in providing support to local communities.
Three of the most important sources of inspiration that have helped Paul along his journey are his wife, his grandmother, and his friend Joel Harmon. Paul has many intangible qualities and believes that learning is an ongoing process.
He is the founder of two major community initiatives in Morristown. One of the organizations, Sustainable Morristown, in which Joel and Paul are the co-founders, is living up to the expectations of the community. Paul is a very effective enroller, advocate and cheerleader. He is well versed on relevant issues and community dynamics. Joel is good at leading at organizations. Paul's wife, a psychotherapist, is a huge help on how to process and analyze various changing situations. Paul admits that he does not have every skill in the world, but feels blessed and thankful that he has been able to make a difference in the community.
Paul was born and raised in Morristown. His family moved away when he was 13 and came back when he was 38 to help take care of his aging grandmother. He didn’t know anyone but her so there weren’t a lot of great networking opportunities in her circle of 85-90 year olds. He found some organizations that were aligned with his aspirations and principles and used his exceptional networking skills to become intricately involved in the community.
He started various organizations, and served under the town's mayor for 4 years as Director of Sustainability on the Environmental Commission. He worked with the education foundation and the tourism bureau. He worked on multiple things that he thought would make a difference and create lasting relationships, which provided him a deeper and broader understanding of the community. He is very involved with the local schools in communicating the message of sustainability because today's children are fundamental in the future of the planet. Shaping young minds from a social standpoint, and an economic standpoint is key. Overall, he is inspired by altruistic deeds as well as a self-serving commitment.
There are multiple sustainable value impacts of the green gift shop.
First, all of the products are considered to be a “brown craft,” which means they are made of 100% post consumer waste, use green energy in their production, and avoid the use of environmentally hazardous materials, such as bleach. An example of a brown crafted product would be one of their shirts which is made using only using organic fibers. The shop does extensive research on vendors and establishes good relationships with them to ensure that the products they purchase for sale are the real deal, and that partners are equally environmentally conscious in their processes.
Second, the shop does not advocate consumerism by promoting excess materials. For example, they use basic recyclable bags instead of fancy aesthetically appealing ones that most stores use. The business believes and implements the value of “if the basic function of an item is enough, any excess only causes more waste." Third, the business allocates 30% of its sales back into the local Morristown community. They provide a good portion of the sales to the schools and the rest back into the local economy to help it flourish. Finally, the business offers charitable incentives when you buy certain products. Every time one of these specific items is bought, the store donates food to a local shelter or other charitable organization. It is important for every business to give back, and Just Jersey is leading by example.
The store was initially set up to be a temporary weekend affair but the response and local support they received turned it into a permanent storefront on the town's main street. The shop started with 40 vendors in their catalog and now are up to 120. In roughly 8 to 9 months, they tripled the number of state vendors supporting and being supported by their business. A number of those were from Morristown, Madison, and other neighboring communities. The shop's vendors go as far south as Cape May and as far north as Sussex County. It is very fulfilling to know that this type of business model can have such a far reaching effect. Based on the local economic impact the business has had, it is anticipated that similar business models will be adopted in other parts of the state and country through independent entrepreneurs and franchising.
This business is set up with a noble purpose of helping the local communities grow by providing them a platform to showcase their talent and products. A large part of the sale proceeds go back to the artists, and are invested back in to the community. The business donates charitable proceeds to local schools and food shelters, and works to collectively raise the economic prosperity of the county, one individual at a time.
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Paul Miller, Owner