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April 28, 2009 - 11:36am

Shopping in your hometown has its advantages

posted by Howard B. Owens in localism.

When you shop at locally owned businesses, you're helping to keep more of your dollars in the local community. A locally owned business owner has made a long-term investment in the community and is more likely to serve on community boards, volunteer for non-profit organizations and donate to local charities.

Meanwhile, out-of-town chains usually employ revolving-door management, will close locations regardless of the impact on the community and often seek tax subsidies out of proportion of the financial benefit to the region.

In fact, large retailers such as Wal-Mart often have minimal impact on an improved job opportunity and revenue growth because of the number of small businesses such big box retailers displace.

These are some of the points made by Stacy Mitchell in The Hometown Advantage, published in 2000 by the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

The subtitle helps tell the story: "How to Defend Your Main Street Against Chain Stores ... and Why It Matters."

Mitchell's suggestions for protecting Main Street range from local solutions such amending master plans to prohibit stores over certain square footage, prohibiting "formula" stores (each location must be unique from other stores in the chain), and up to the state level, which includes additional tax levies on chains that own and operate more than one outlet in the state.

Locally owned businesses are the backbone and heart of economic vitality for any community. The long-term health of a community that has lost its local businesses is sketchy at best.

The Hometown Advantage is out of print, but Erica  Caldwell at Present Tense on Washington Avenue tells me she can easily special order copies. She is also getting into stock the next book by Mitchell, The Big Box Swindle, which goes into more depth on the issue of major chain retailers and their impact on local communities. That's next on my reading list.

Deborah Eastridge
Deborah Eastridge's picture
Last seen: 5 years 4 months ago
Joined: Jun 5 2008 - 12:00pm
I Do all of my Shopping in Batavia But I do not go downtown to the stores and Businesses OR to any of the activities that Batavia has in the down town area for one reason All the stores and businesses have the same signs in there windows NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS
Howard B. Owens
Howard B. Owens's picture
Last seen: 2 days 21 hours ago
Joined: Apr 23 2008 - 3:05pm
I have NEVER seen a "no public restrooms" in a window in downtown Batavia. My office is downtown and I'm walking around DT quite frequently. Further, I can't see that as a reason not to shop DT. And shopping locally means much more than shopping DT, even as important as that is.
Peter O'Brien
Peter O'Brien's picture
Last seen: 5 years 7 months ago
Joined: Mar 4 2009 - 1:24pm
I understand the importance of supporting local people. And I do just that. But at the same time restrictions on incoming business regardless of size is wrong. Stores like Walmart bring things that local stores can't and vice versa. Walmart is great for getting a wide variety of choices. Smaller local stores are great for customer relationships and specific needs. To me there is a place for both in my heart and wallet.
Howard B. Owens
Howard B. Owens's picture
Last seen: 2 days 21 hours ago
Joined: Apr 23 2008 - 3:05pm
Peter, to some extent we're stuck with Wal-Mart at this point. I agree that Wal-Mart carries things that you just can't buy at other stores, which makes Wal-Mart, in today's environment, inevitable. And it's also better to shop in the Batavia Wal-Mart than travel to Rochester or Buffalo for the same item, etc., because Wal-Mart does employee local people and pay local taxes, so there is still some benefit to the community. It's not a complete loss. But it's important to remember that the Wal-Marts of the world became as big as they did and as powerful as they did in part because of local governments that supplied them with tax subsidies that enable them to expand. They then drove out of businesses the small merchants who couldn't withstand their category-killer pricing. What makes Wal-Mart inevitable isn't the fact there never were alternatives -- they've killed many of the alternatives. And Wal-Mart and its ilk has played a key role in driving manufacturing jobs out of North America, with its insatiable demand for lower and lower prices, it's become a major factor in increased imports from China. Where we can, we should shop locally. And as citizens, we should be on guard against allowing our elected officials giving unfair tax advantages to our-of-town retailers.
C D's picture
Last seen: 8 years 11 months ago
Joined: Oct 9 2008 - 10:40pm
There's a restaurant down Court Street that's for "paying customers only". I don't remember the name of the restaurant, but I distinctly remember the sign in the window.
Howard B. Owens
Howard B. Owens's picture
Last seen: 2 days 21 hours ago
Joined: Apr 23 2008 - 3:05pm
OK, that's one. Now, I'm not going to speak for any business owner, but I've found that generally "customer only" signs are meant to keep out riff-raft, because smart business owners know that I may not be a customer today, but I might be tomorrow. That said, I also think businesses have a right to control such things. And that said, again -- that's one, but I think it's kind of a lame reason to say "I don't shop downtown because of it."

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