Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Small, local retailers
When shopping, I generally check first with the small, local retailers. I can often find what I want at a competitive price and I usually get better service and more expert advice. Sometimes they don’t have what I need and I end up at the big box, but I try the local places first. On a recent shopping trip like that around town, I found myself wondering about the interplay of local and national-chain retail. I found myself thinking back to when I was a kid and the small town I got to spend some time in with my grandparents. I make no claims to be an economic historian (or any kind of economist or historian), but in my amateurish musings, I thought about trips to the local retailers with my grandmas and how the attitude about local retailers was not always so positive. Back when the local retailer was the only place in town, he may have taken advantage of the captive market. Prices may have been inflated, business practices may have been a bit shady. In some cases, the national chains that moved in represented an alternative that offered predictable business practices and level of quality, and lower prices. A little competition may have helped the local retailer improve. Mind you, I’m not buying into the claim of the big national retailer that it doesn’t drive viable, well-managed places out of business. Their claim sounds a bit circular to me: “if that business went out, it must have been unviable or poorly managed.” But maybe in some cases, an expanded competitive pool has resulted in local businesses that work harder to earn their customer base, not just take it for granted, and as a result the current positive view of small, local retailers. They do work hard to earn our business. We should give them the opportunity to do so. Otherwise, the next time you want the local alternative, it won’t be there.