Lo­cal vs. sav­ings, a tough choice for shop­pers

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - This edi­to­rial orig­i­nally ap­peared in The Tele­gram

Put your money where your mouth is - but back to that in a minute.

It was a telling mo­ment last month, dur­ing a time when all the hype was about the im­ported-from-the-U.S. Black Fri­day sales event. In the midst of the lead-up to Christ­mas, three busi­nesses in down­town St. John’s an­nounced they are clos­ing by the end of the year. In­cluded was Tem­ple­ton’s, a fam­ily-owned hard­ware and sup­ply store that has op­er­ated for 150 years.

The clos­ings brought the usual tem­pest: when a long-time busi­ness closes, the me­dia can inevitably find scores of peo­ple who feel the clo­sures will be a loss. What’s not so easy to find, though, is cus­tomers to keep the doors open. And it’s far from a New­found­land-only is­sue. Sift through the In­ter­net and you can eas­ily find sto­ries like China Cup­board and Gifts clos­ing in New Glas­gow, N.S. af­ter 27 years, or Syd­ney Video clos­ing in Syd­ney, N.S.

And it’s not just small op­er­a­tions, ei­ther: Sears pulled out of New Glas­gow, N.S. this fall, and Fabricville in Char­lot­te­town, P.E.I. an­nounced it was clos­ing down by the end of Novem­ber.

It’s a story that’s gone on for years; the mar­ket­place has un­der­gone a huge up­heaval with moves both to big-box mega­s­tores and to on­line cat­a­logue shop­ping. Costs for re­tail­ers are ris­ing, while the pool of avail­able cus­tomers is shrink­ing or, in the case of the video busi­ness, down­right dis­ap­pear­ing.

Ask cus­tomers why they make those choices, and it’s all about choice, price, and con­ve­nience.

Sup­port­ing a lo­cal econ­omy through the pur­chase of lo­cal goods may be an al­tru­is­tic goal and one that peo­ple flock to when clos­ings are an­nounced, but when it comes up against fis­cal prag­ma­tism, the win­ner is clear. And it’s not smaller lo­cal stores them­selves. Buy­ing lo­cal prod­ucts can have strong ben­e­fits for a com­mu­nity: it keeps peo­ple in that com­mu­nity at work and lo­cal taxes be­ing paid. Vi­brant small re­tail­ers beget other small re­tail­ers, the same way that, as re­tail­ers leave an area, their neigh­bours suf­fer more strain and fewer sell­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

And sometimes, it’s a lit­tle bit more dif­fi­cult: the se­lec­tion might not be as broad, the park­ing might be tougher, and it might even cost you more. The dol­lars you spend, though, do cir­cu­late through lo­cal econ­omy, and won’t go off to some dis­tant head of­fice to fi­nance a man­age­ment struc­ture that prob­a­bly couldn’t find your home­town on a map.

It is a bit of a co­nun­drum: peo­ple both de­cry the clos­ing of lo­cal busi­nesses, and yet prob­a­bly can’t re­mem­ber the last time they ac­tu­ally sup­ported those same busi­nesses by com­ing through the door and buy­ing some­thing.

You can’t buy things ex­clu­sively at one kind of busi­ness, and then com­plain about other busi­nesses clos­ing.

You get what you pay for, not only in prod­ucts, but also in choices.

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