Monday, November 30, 2015

Help everyone have a happy holiday – shop local.


Last December I submitted this op-ed for your consideration. The message is as accurate and true now as it was then, and I encourage you to think about the impact your shopping habits have on our city. Last weekend our local businesses participated in a nationwide effort to encourage you to shop locally. Toys, jewelry, and great holiday gifts can be found in downtown, and your dollars are needed there to keep our city thriving. Keep it local!

Do you remember the scene in the movie A Christmas Story that shows little Ralphie and the family in their downtown gazing in wonder at the toy display in the window of the department store? When I was a kid my hometown had a department store just like the one in Ralphie’s hometown called Globman’s. It was just down the street from a family owned shoe store named McCollum – Ferrell. I hated them both. There was nothing, and I mean nothing, that could ruin a seven year old child’s Saturday faster than being dragged to Globman’s and McCollum-Ferrell on a family shopping trip.

Globman’s was founded in my hometown in 1915, and McCollum –Ferrell started selling shoes in 1947. I wish I could tell you that these fine old stores, where store clerks knew their customers by their first name, believed that the customer was always right, and led the way in the community by supporting area charities, were still in business. They are not. They were both killed by the shopping mall that I and my friends hung out at in high school. After the shopping mall killed these two generations-old family businesses, it proceeded in serial killer fashion to wipe out other downtown stores as well.

Shopping, which we all know is not the reason for the holiday season, plays a critical part of our holiday celebrations. While the main street in the town I grew up in is eerily reminiscent of an old western ghost town haunted by tumbleweeds and lost fortunes, the businesses in our city are still alive and kicking. Here in Clinton you can walk into any number of businesses and be greeted by name. Store owners strike up a conversation about your family, football, or any number of interests. Store owners give to local charities, sponsor your child’s youth sports team, champion causes such as the United Way, and cheer the football team to victory on Friday night right alongside you.

They survive only because you choose to shop there, and when you stop shopping there, they will go out of businesses. Stop and think for a moment what our city would be like if downtown were dead. Does anyone really want to live in a dead city? Do you think a major employer would choose to build a new manufacturing plant in a town that had no shops, no restaurants, no community pride or no community spirit?  

Many times citizens will approach me or a member of my staff and tell us about a business in another town that they wish would locate here. Our shopping habits may actually be preventing those businesses from locating here.  As long as we are willing to travel to another town to be a patron of a business in that town, then that business will not choose to locate here. Why would they invest tens of thousands of dollars in building and opening a new store when we, their customers, are perfectly willing to get in our car and drive up to fifty miles to buy their goods or eat in their restaurant?

I know that as you read this you are pinching your pennies to buy that special gift, pay for groceries, and cover travel costs to see far off relatives this holiday season. You are not alone in your penny pinching because your neighbors, who own and work in businesses in our town, are doing the same. I know you are seeking out the best online deals and waiting in long lines at the mall to get a few percentage points off the price. I know you have to do that, because money is tight. Do your neighbor a favor, and take a moment to stop in a local business this holiday season. My family will be doing some of our Christmas shopping locally this year. You might be surprised at what you will find in a local store. There are good deals, perfect gifts, great services, and delicious meals to be had right here in our city. I know it is unreasonable to expect anyone to spend all of their money here but do yourself and the business community a favor and just check out a local business out this season.

Protecting our local business community is a two way street. Business owners must recognize that their competition is global. A local business isn’t competing with another local business located on the same street, but instead they are competing with hundreds of retailers in Greenville, Spartanburg, Columbia, Greenwood, and Newberry, and they are competing with the thousands of retailers that can be found online with the click of a button. Business owners must look for innovative ways to partner with each other to provide competitive value for our citizens, and that means being open, working together, and supporting events that your city puts on to bring customers to your doorstep. It also means working with your local government to help us find ways to partner to make you successful.

During the holiday season we all reminisce fondly about holidays past, which is what led me to think about the old stores in my hometown and how much I hated Saturday’s spent Christmas shopping as a kid.  I realize now how critical these family run businesses are to our city and to any city. Few things are more American than a family that builds the American dream over generations of managing a family business.  All that is left of the family businesses that were once Globman’s and McCollum Ferrell are their names etched into the marble façades of the buildings they once occupied. The stores didn’t go out of business because of bad service, bad location, bad management or bad products. They closed their doors because the communities they supported and staked their names and reputations on for decades stopped supporting them. We let them down. We looked the other way when they needed us the most. We worried about saving a dime and ended up paying thousands of dimes in tax money to support laid off store clerks and to try and salvage downtown storefronts. We failed.

This holiday season take the advice of the Chamber of Commerce and shop in Laurens County first. Your neighborhood business owners have invested in our city and now is the time for us to do the same. We have the ability to keep our city’s businesses alive, keep our communities vibrant and the ability to show other business that this is a great place to locate. All you have to do is do some of your shopping locally, and by shopping locally you can ensure that our community has a very happy (and profitable) holiday season.