This holiday season, when American consumers are once again gearing up to brave fierce temperatures and even fiercer crowds at the malls and outlet stores, or the seemingly endless expanse of the online marketplace, the Herald encourages you to do at least some of your shopping in the places you know best — your local downtowns.
Many of the small business owners we all know aren’t in it only for the profit — they live in our communities, too, and thus are stakeholders in them. Most more than pull their weight by playing leadership roles in enhancing the vibrancy of our communities. They sponsor after-school activities, work earnestly with lawmakers to improve our downtowns and are among the first to show up when news spreads of someone fallen on hard times.
Small businesses play a special role, and as responsible community members — and consumers — we should do our part to keep this dynamic alive.
The number of consumers doing their shopping 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 small business.
Many feel threatened by internet-based companies that don’t play by the same rules of commerce. And if we let these local merchants and community pillars go out of business, we’d only be hurting ourselves.
If you must shop online, also consider local, or at least New York-based, merchants. Just last July, hundreds of local retailers called on the State Legislature to enact a law mandating that out-of-state online retailers doing business in New York charge a sales tax. The calls followed a Supreme Court decision earlier this year allowing states to mandate the tax. (Previously, they were not permitted to.) Requiring out-of-state retailers to charge the tax would help level the playing field for our local merchants, many of whom now maintain brick-and-mortar stores and retail websites.
Ordering online from our local retailers won’t make a dent in the disparity in sales they do compared with out-of-state giants like Amazon (perhaps not the best example of out-of-state, given recent news of the company’s planned move to Long Island City), Overstock and Wayfair, but the words of supporters of the sales-tax measure at a July rally in Plainview, most of whom were small business owners, highlighted the importance of supporting the local guy.
“America was built on brick-and-mortar stores,” said Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker, a Democrat representing the 16th District. “They are the middle class, and we’ve gotten away from supporting them. This could be a wake-up call to support local businesses.”
Let’s also not forget about our property taxes — not that many of us ever do. Boosting local sales-tax revenue at our mom-and-pop shops is one route to mitigating some of that pain. Likewise, let’s not forget that local businesses employ lots of local folks. They need us, and we need them.
Every local purchase counts toward keeping the backbone of our communities strong. “Small things are what add up to big things,” Gary Hudes, a former Town of Hempstead councilman and successful local businessman, told the Herald this year, explaining how he has run Gennaro Jewelers in Bellmore since 1999, with the same customer-focused mindset as its original owner in 1923.
Hudes was absolutely correct.