The ebbs and flows of our economy, even the global economy, seem to have been contingent on the most efficient way to shop, at least in part. While the rise of department stores began in the 1800s, with the first noteworthy one to open being Harding, Howell & Co in 1796 in London, the most controversial store to open was in 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas: Wal-Mart (now Walmart). News reports covering Walmart’s global expansion over the last 50-plus years show both pros and cons. Walmart has employed millions but has left most of them on government subsidies. A new store provides a place of convenient shopping while it shutters mom-and-pop shops that offer competing goods and services. It has proven to improve housing values in some places but it also has been shown to increase obesity rates, as reported in Time in 2012, “The Unexpected Effects of Walmart Coming to Town.” One thing is certain, with the growth of Walmart came the same for the fortune of the Waltons, the founders of Walmart, and their heirs: a combined $130 billion. If going to Walmart wasn’t convenient enough, then came Amazon.
Forbes magazine carried a story in August about the phenomenon of the online retailer: “The Inexorable Rise of Amazon: Nine Reasons Why It’ll Only Get Bigger.” In essence, since we can’t get off our phones and Amazon has practically anything and everything we need, obtained in the easiest of ways by simply swiping, plus founder Jeff Bezos’ relentless pursuit of meeting demands in a virtual world, Amazon’s growth is practically unstoppable. With that, Bezos alone is worth $95 billion.
When looking at the shifting of our retail paradigm, there is a sort of overwhelming feeling about how our lives are being shaped, for better or for worse. But there is time to reflect and do some things differently, including putting down our phones and enjoying a slower pace of life. Mom and pops are not dead, and perhaps we aren’t as hooked on Amazon, or even Walmart, as it appears.
In August, CNBC wrote in “Despite the Amazon effect, not all mom-and-pop stores are in trouble on Main Street”:
National Retail Federation notes that more than 98 percent of all retailers in America are small business companies employing fewer than 50 people. And while the most recent National Federation of Independent Business, Small Business Optimism Index declined slightly, overall sentiment is still the best it’s been since late 2005.
Though optimism may not be at its peak, hopefully mom-and-pop shops are here to stay; and if they can survive the rise of mega-retailers, then it seems clear that whatever these locally owned shops are selling, perhaps we should be buying. Further, supporting these businesses in turn supports our local economy and communities, from employment to sales tax revenue. It also creates warm ambience in our local shopping districts, a friendly atmosphere where neighbors and the community connect. And while that may not be for everyone, forming in-person bonds is something isolated Internet shopping cannot do. This holiday season, perhaps we should see and visit and shop in our local neighborhoods and really see what they have been doing to withstand the pressure of a changing retail world. Please shop locally when possible!