I love stores. I can wander aisles for hours, admiring end caps and displays and talking shop with managers and staff.
And while I can buzz the big-box chains with the best of them, the stores I love best are the independent retail operations — those corner pharmacies, little gift shops and family clothing stores you find in town centers. They bring a special flavor to the retail landscape and provide special services to their customers.
Over the years that I’ve covered shopping, I’ve written about more store closings than I can count. Like Marlow’s, an old-fashioned Main Street department store and Manchester landmark for 91 years until it shut down in 2002. And Bookworm, an independent bookstore and fixture in West Hartford for decades. North Cove Outfitters. Marlborough Barn. Metzger’s Lighting. Life of Riley and so many others in Connecticut alone.
No question, independent businesses face tough going. Venetucci Home, a unique home furnishings outlet in Westbrook and one of my favorite retail therapy destinations, is currently holding an inventory reduction sale to get customers in the door. The store offers designer decor at great prices — and has been a good neighbor to the community by supporting local charities with a progression of fundraisers.
Owner Tony Venetucci says the economy has taken its toll on the 13-year business.
“Operating costs have gone up and sales have dropped off,” says Venetucci, who also manages a smaller store he opened a few years ago in Newport, R.I.
When you’ve got a special store down the street, you tend to think it will be there forever. Until it isn’t. So if you have a store you love, you have to make a special effort to shop there often. The reasons for doing so go way beyond nostalgia.
The 3/50 Project, a small-business advocacy group, says that for every $100 spent in locally-owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. Spend the same amount in a retail chain and $43 stays in the community. Spend it online and nothing comes back to the community, the group estimates.
There are renewed efforts to get that message out. American Express supports shop-local efforts with Small Business Saturday. The event, which offers consumers special incentives for shopping at small businesses, takes place Thanksgiving weekend, between Black Friday and Cyber Monday and is designed to boost sales for local retailers throughout the holiday shopping season.
Cash mobs are another national movement. Shoppers pick a local business and set a date and time and spread the word. People show up and spend $20 each. Cash mobs give stores a quick influx of cash and a boost in sales.
These efforts have a big impact on the viability and visibility of small businesses — and people’s consciousness around where and how they spend their money. But supporting local retailers is more than just a one-day event and one day’s big sales won’t save a struggling business. For the stores to be really successful, customers have to keep coming back week after week. I’m going to do my best to do just that. I hope you will, too.
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