Last year, my town’s last general interest book and entertainment store went out of business. I feel sad that I can no longer casually browse through stacks of books, magazines, and other interesting merchandise then bring something home right away to enjoy. I’m a big advocate of shopping locally especially mom and pop businesses.
The downtown business district in my small city used to be a thriving hub for people who worked, farmed, and lived in Northeast Nebraska. The arrival of big box stores changed all of that. The small businesses couldn’t compete with the scorched earth policies of the large, national chains. One by one, once viable, prosperous downtown stores went dark.
Eventually, even the downtown book stores and music stores closed. The only local options were to be found at the town’s only shopping mall and at the previously mentioned book and entertainment store that had taken over our town’s first WalMart location.
To further the damage, Internet shopping sites entered the picture and are apparently here to stay. Even customers who are in favor of buying from independent, local stores find it easy to click on Amazon or similar sites and purchase stuff online.
National big box stores return to the local economies approximately $14 for every $100 spent. Online sales from Amazon return practically zero dollars. Furthermore, studies have shown that independent stores employ around 57 people for every $10,000,000 in sales. Most of those employees are local residents. Meantime companies like Amazon employ around 14 people for every $10,000,000 in sales. Very few employees work for online sellers in each state.
An independent study titled “Amazon & Empty Storefronts” found out that the online retailer’s sales caused the nationwide loss of more than $1,000,000,000 in tax collections, 107,000,000 square feet of commercial space, and the loss of over 135,000 jobs in 2014 alone. The study noted that Amazon only accounted for a third of all online transactions.
Add to this the fact that many towns and cities offer substantial subsidies and tax rebates to major big box and chain store developers. This means local mom and pop stores subsidize their main competitors. Local consumers also foot the bill.
Costs include tradeoffs like increased taxes to replace the revenue losses of the stores residents seldom or never visit anymore. There are the costs of redevelopment projects near hard-hit commercial districts and failing shopping centers. At the least, many of us have to put up with the blight of boarded up storefronts.
Somehow, our shopping mall is surviving, but foot traffic is only very heavy during the December holiday season. The downtown business district is becoming more viable, but is still quiet during most of the days of the year. The stores that remain have been using creative marketing and promotion techniques to attract customers.
On the national scene, some small stores are celebrating “Cider Monday” today. This is a wordplay on “Cyber Monday” that Internet retailers are using today. The independents, mostly in the New England states, are inviting the public into their stores to enjoy a cup of free apple cider and snacks. While the people are in the stores, they can check out the specially priced merchandise. Events like Cider Monday help the customers reacquaint themselves with the joys of shopping at home-owned, local businesses.
The benefits also include more diversity in the marketplace and the potential improved economic health of local communities.
I plan to do all of my shopping at locally owned stores in my town.