Supporting your local businesses is a popular topic today. Perhaps it always has been.
Having moved from busy San Diego county to a small town in Oregon has made clear the effects of a big box store on a small town. It may happen just as often in a larger city, but it’s not as obvious. There are stores everywhere in a city, as well as shoppers.
But when there are less than ten thousand people living in an area, the struggle to succeed in a small business is often more difficult.
We All Want Our Local Businesses to Succeed
Yet if you have a ‘big box’ store in town, how much more difficult it must be.
I can see both sides at the moment. The city I live in has a big box store. The store sells everything. Groceries, clothing, prescriptions, home improvement supplies, electronics, furniture. Exactly what you have come to expect from stores of this type.
There are stores in the community that offer most of those items separately. Hardware stores, furniture stores, grocery stores.
Doing a comparison the last few weeks, at the grocery store many of the items cost as much as 25% more in price than in the big box store. Unfortunately, that is a substantial difference to those with fixed or low incomes. A small town with less population often mean a lower income level. It may include a large percentage of retired folks living on social security income.
What Do You Do With a 25% Price Difference?
It’s one of those spirals that is hard to get away from. If you have a lower income level, can the population afford to pay 25% more for groceries? So if you were to spend $300 at the big box store for groceries, it could cost $400 at the smaller grocery store. That $100 difference is fairly large impact on a limited budget.
As a result, the grocery stores often see a drop in business, though they may thrive in areas without the big box store. Even more so for clothing stores, sporting goods stores, and pharmacies. Prescription costs also vary dramatically. The cost difference affects seniors—most often on fixed incomes—the most. We have all heard stories of elderly having to choose between filling prescriptions and groceries. Hopefully that has improved in the last few years, but it is still an example of the importance of cost savings.
Then There is Shopping Online
Add to that the increasing percentage of online shopping, That too affects the small local stores most, and can cut into their sales further, unless they too have a strong online presence.
Where will this lead? Will we see a total shift from small businesses selling products? I know locally on our main street you will find several antique and thrift shops. We see six or seven pet groomers. There are a few gift shops and restaurants. Still with several of those new additions, there are many empty stores along the highway.
What Makes The Difference for Success?
A recent drive to a town about 100 miles from where I live, led me to another small town. This one without a big box store, though several are a half hour away. In this community all but one store in the down town area was open for business.
I know it isn’t only that there is no big box store. First, the downtown area is a smaller square of a few blocks. Easy to walk and explore, compared to our downtown that runs a couple of miles. Second, it is probably considered more of a destination vacation setting. Still, it makes me wonder how much the big box store impacts our small community. Without it, the economy here would probably be struggling more. I’d hate to see that happen.
So what is the solution? Is there one? I wish I had the answer and would love to hear from you on the subject. Change is inevitable everywhere, so it answers will need to be found in adaptation. And perhaps commitment to our local shops and stores too. If each of us in a small community would commit to a portion of our shopping at the small stores, that would be a good start. Coming up with businesses that thrive in today’s circumstances will be another.
There is a need and hopefully a place for both the big and and small options. I hope our city officials are considering options that will guide our small little into brighter futures.