VOL. 120 | NO. 104 | Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Bigger Isn't Always Better ...
Small business owners are struggling. With the ever-increasing popularity of online shopping and a bigger-is-better mentality among national retail outlets, the local shop - the backbone of any community's economy - simply is losing the race to the big, bad big-box. And it's heartbreaking. Not only, in many cases, do entrepreneurs stake their family's entire livelihoods on making their ventures work, but these industrious risk-takers are, as local small business activist Robert Staub says below, the "local economic workhorse." Small businesses provide employment for as much as 80 percent of area workers.
And supporting them would be easy, if not for the fact that supporting their competition - the big, national retail chains - is easier. In this day and age, everyone is guilty of it. Instead of taking time out of our hectic daily routines to browse a local shop, we pop into the national chain discount store next door to the national chain pizza place we're stopping by to pick up dinner. Or better yet, we run home and get online, move the mouse around for a few minutes, type in a credit card number and just order what we need from that same national retailer without having to get out of the car at all.
But is that really easier? Do the frustrations of dealing with unsmiling, unhelpful sales clerks or online shipping delays really make life better? There are so many benefits to shopping small. For one, the advent of large, impersonal chain stores - not to mention online "shopping carts" - has ultimately led to the death of customer service. Imagine renting a DVD, leaving it on the coffee table an extra day and, upon returning it, not paying a corporate-mandated late fee. The owner of the shop, which you frequent, instead just says, "Aw, you're a good customer. Don't worry about it at all." Can you picture that happening in one of the national video rental chains? Or say you browse a quaint little South Main shop and ask the shopkeeper about a handmade table. He provides details about what inspired its creation, how the materials were chosen and when and how it was made. You're not going to find that type of local flavor - not to mention personal service - at genericstuff.com.
Many of us have good intentions when it comes to supporting local businesses. But every time we choose convenience over character, cost over value, we're chipping away a little more of what makes Memphis unique. Without the Burke's Book Stores, Otherlands coffee shops, Village Toymakers and Muse boutiques, Memphis is just another urban strip center with a Gap and a Starbucks. Think about that the next time you have the opportunity to pass by a national chain store and stop in to the small shop on the corner. It's virtually guaranteed that the owner's going to smile, say hello and truly appreciate your business.