So many of the small business owners who occupy storefronts in our downtowns give so much to their communities, volunteering their time, energy and dollars to beautify our local commerce zones during the holidays. Or they might coach a Little League team, sponsor any number of youth activities or serve as mentors to at-risk high school students.
They do so because they care. They not only work in our communities, but they live here as well. They earn their livelihoods and make their lives locally.
It isn’t always easy. Making a go of it as a small business owner is rough these days, particularly with the growing popularity of internet shopping, especially among millennials.
In the coming weeks, consider spending at least part of your holiday budget at your local shops and eateries. Like so many businesses, this is their busy season. They need all of our support to stay in business.
You can only imagine what our communities would look like without our small businesses. Our downtowns would become boarded-up ghost towns. That wouldn’t be good for any of us, because our property values would inevitably decline.
Once upon a time, holiday shopping was an experience. Folks carved out entire Saturdays or Sundays and headed to their local downtowns to browse through the retail shops. The experience was fun and quaint. You had lunch at the local diner.
Then along came the malls. People flocked to them. The box stores, with their steep discounts, followed. With each successive iteration of the holiday shopping experience, consumers were drawn increasingly farther from their hometowns.
Now folks don’t even need to leave their homes to shop. They can order everything online, and it arrives within days. Prices are often cheaper than at the box stores, because many online retailers don’t charge state and local sales taxes.
That’s really bad news not only for mom-and-pop shops, but also for state and local governments –– and, ultimately, taxpayers. With reduced sales-tax dollars streaming in, local governments have been forced to either increase property taxes or reduce critical services. Often they have chosen the latter, lest they be accused of raising taxes.
The number of consumers who make their purchases online is expected to reach 270 million by 2020, with internet commerce largely driven by mobile devices, according to www.internetretailer.com. Online sales are projected to reach $638 billion in the next five years, up 56 percent from $409 billion in 2017. None of this bodes well for the downtown brick-and-mortar retailer.
Too many small businesses are threatened by internet-based companies that don’t play by the same rules of commerce as traditional mom-and-pop shops. If we are to have thriving downtowns that are the centers of our local communities, we must spend our dollars locally.
When nonprofit charity groups like the Kiwanis Club need raffle prizes, who do they call? Our local small businesses. When village officials want to host Halloween parades or menorah and Christmas tree lightings, who do they call? Our local small businesses. When the elementary schools need guest readers, who do they call? You guessed it — our local small businesses.
Let’s also not forget that these businesses employ lots of local folks. They need us, and we need them. If the internet kills them off, then all of us will inevitably suffer.
Our downtown shops often offer more personalized service than do the retailers at the mall or online. It’s a friendly, down-home experience that is so rare these days. The best way to support local businesses is to shop in their stores and buy their goods and services.