Local television channels recently have put out public service messages encouraging people to buy services and goods locally and thus support the local economy. Their message is that “your” money somehow stays here and creates all these benefits while almost implying that shopping elsewhere is somehow un-American.
Maybe what we are seeing is just the evolution of commerce and how it is delivered. Growing up in the '50s, most businesses were locally owned “mom and pop” stores, and people from small towns came to the larger cities to shop and obtain services that were unavailable in their local communities. In the late '60s and early '70s, we saw the advent of strip malls, shopping centers and grocery store chains. Many of the locally owned stores that had thrived before could no longer compete, and they disappeared. Now, as more people choose to shop online, we see major chain stores closing locally and nationally because they also cannot compete.
There are many reasons that determine where a person decides to make a purchase. Some of these reasons are availability, convenience, price, loyalty, advertising and shopping locally. I personally am not a big shopper and when I shop, I know where I am going and what I am buying before I leave the house. I do not like shopping just to shop, and I have been in the mall on Christmas Eve with one more gift to buy and my brain is completely empty … not even a glimmer of an idea. I have my favorite businesses that I make purchases from and I also occasionally shop at places that provide a specific service or item. I do frequent many different restaurants and occasionally will visit “the mall,” but I also love the convenience of shopping online. There also are many stores and businesses in town that I have never been in and have never purchased anything from. I do not often frequent the downtown area or the stores in the malls.
There was a time that I lived in Devils Lake, and many residents did their major shopping in Grand Forks and it did influence Devils Lake’s economy. But maybe the bigger question is why people are driving close to 200 miles round trip and still able to save money by doing so. It begs the question of what price local merchants and businesses are charging for their goods and services. Competition in business is not just a localized issue, especially when we have a global economy.
I worked in retail while attending college, and the glaring business philosophy was the demand to continually increase the level of sales regardless of economic levels, personal income, population of the local market and/or other competition. It was all about profit and nothing else. You saw major chain stores expand into more and more markets to increase that profit margin. That also is why you saw so many major companies go overseas because of cheap labor. China became a major importer to the U.S. because we as consumers demanded cheaper prices over support for products made in the USA. Profit over quality became the norm, and we as consumers became a “throw away” society.
I understand that it is hard for some local businesses to compete with online giants like Amazon, but I also do not feel that online shopping should be demonized or curtailed. For many people in rural America, these online sites have offered an easy and convenient way to shop from your home and have it delivered to our doorstep.
So, the question remains whether where we shop causes some businesses to close, or is it due to a lack of traffic based on what goods and services they provide and at what price? Also, do our shopping habits affect the local economy and to what extent, and are we willing as a community to live with the results?