Thursday, December 31, 2009

Buying Local

The Decatur Metro blog recently had a discussion based on "My Year of Shopping Locally," a Mother Nature Network article written by Avondale resident Patti Ghettzi.  The author detailed problems regarding availability, customer service, and prices when attempting to purchase goods from local merchants.  (Patti also notes that she patronizes "several fantastic locally owned shops, including a children’s bookstore, a toy store and a gift shop."  Yay, us!)

Downtown Decatur lost a good number of businesses in 2009, and I am deeply saddened by the loss of many.  By Hand South was a wonderful store that closed after 20 years.  Whit's End will soon be locking its doors after three years.  Brenda had a truly great craft gallery; Jeff and Greg had a terrific selection of men's clothing and knew their customer base.  Maybe, just maybe, these two businesses did not survive this recession because not enough people realized that these were excellent shops and that they were important for our community.

Within that context, I want to elaborate on one post within the blog's thread.  The following is from George:
Consumers have an amazing ability to do the calculus of ‘value’ without even (consciously) realizing it. That’s why free markets work so incredibly well.
I’m sure we all agree that local/small businesses have to deliver something more in that equation (whether convenience, customer service, nostalgia, prestige, product selection, whatever) in order to compete. I love that locals stand a fighting chance by focusing on some of these dimensions. But what I resent/regret is the position (admittedly rarely taken, so notable in its occurrence) that consumers will buy local simply because a business is “local”.
As local consumers, we owe you nothing for your proximity or your size. But if you figure out which of these other value dimensions is important to us, there’s ample proof that the community will support you.

I am in total agreement with all of this except the last point; there is ample proof that some good businesses will fail in an economic downturn.  We're smaller.  We're more vulnerable.

Part of the calculus that individuals should consider when making buying decisions is a consideration of the type of community we want to live in.  Local business add to our tax base, increase our property values, and give our city character.  We put money back into our communities by supporting other local businesses and institutions.  Shopping locally can save transportation costs and time.

Keep shopping local.  Explore.  Give all of us a chance to earn your business.

In particular, shop your local bookstores.

[Excuse me, but I'm about to go on at length here, even though I did edit this part down.  Considerably.]

It was a tough year for booksellers, whether local or foreign, big box or independent, big city or small town, old or new, general or specialty, large scale or tiny, for profit or non-profit.

Right here in Decatur, Indie Coffee & Books and Wordsmiths closed in 2009.

Further away, Borders (UK) Limited, a former subsidiary of Borders in the U.S., closed all 45 of its stores in December.  Winnipeg's McNally Robinson, our co-winner in the Neil Gaiman Graveyard Book Halloween Party contest and long considered Canada’s best independent bookseller, filed for bankruptcy protection last week and announced that it will close two of its four stores.

Barnes & Noble is closing all of their remaining B. Dalton stores by the end of January.  Borders is closing most of their Borders Express and Waldenbooks.  Both of the big box chains have been bleeding money.  While I don't feel sorry for these guys, the upshot is that many towns and cities -- perhaps scores of communities -- will now be without a bookstore of any kind.  In two weeks, the residents of Loredo, Texas (a quarter-million of them) will have a 150-mile drive to the nearest bookstore, in San Antonio.

"A town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but without a bookstore it knows it's not fooling a soul."  Neil Gaiman, from American Gods, which Time Magazine listed as one of its ten best books of the decade.

Other recent casualties include Outward Bound, Indianapolis’ gay bookstore, and Lambda Rising, the only GLBT bookstore in Washington, D.C.  The Toronto Women’s Bookstore, a 27-year-old non-profit, needs to raise a significant amount of cash through donations or close.  Gem’s Gems, a non-profit children’s bookstore in El Paso, closed in December, as did Red Raven, a used bookstore in Sandusky, Ohio.

Lee Booksellers, a Lincoln, Nebraska institution, is closing after 30 years for want of a buyer.  Leo’s Book Shoppe closed following 42 years in downtown Toledo.  Throughout their histories, Lee and Leo's had one pair of owner each.  Hendersonville, North Carolina’s Mountain Lore Books & More, purchased by a new owner just one year ago, locked its doors this week.

Despite losses, Decatur has Little Shop and Books Again (as well as an excellent library).  Eagle Eye and Blue Elephant are nearby, as are Charis, A Cappella, Outwrite, Tall Tales, and Bound To Be Read.  We're all competing against one Borders and soon to be three nearby Barnes and Noble stores.

We at Little Shop feel incredibly fortunate that we are located in the heart of Decatur and that, even in these difficult times, we have been able to grow and thrive.  Thanks for supporting us.  Keep it up.  (Please!)

And a Happy New Year to all!

- Dave

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BigD said...
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