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CARLTON FLETCHER: Shop Local is do or die for small businesses

OPINION: Taxes collected from local sales impact services in a community

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

My mama told me, “You better shop around.”

The Miracles

As the holiday season approaches, and children are starting to nestle into their beds at night with visions of sugarplums … and new cellphones and ATVs and electronics and designer wardrobes … dancing in their heads, small business owners in the region are dreaming in green.

The color of money.

For many small businesses, the Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah season is make-or-break time. If their customers — their friends, neighbors and acquaintances that they see in church, at the movie theater, dining at local restaurants — do their holiday shopping at these retailers’ establishments, their businesses live to see another season.

If not, well, prospects drop tremendously.

That’s why groups like the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce and various merchant associations are urging citizens to “Shop Local” this holiday season. It’s way more than a catchy slogan. It’s the lifeblood of our community.

The more cynical among us tend to look upon merchants’ attempts to entice us to spend our money with them as greed, pure and simple. “They just want us to line their pockets.” But local businesses — especially locally owned mom-and-pop-type businesses — are vital to the very existence of communities. It’s the local businesses that add to an area’s work force; maybe only two, three, four or five employees at a time, but the accumulation is vital to keeping citizens gainfully employed.

And the sales taxes that these businesses collect give local governments the funding needed to supply vital services such as garbage collection, road improvements, police and fire protection, sewer maintenance.

Talking to local businessmen and -women provides compelling insight into the daily grind that operating their establishments can become.

“It’s more than providing goods or services that people in the community need,” one such businessman said. “Local support for our establishment has turned into a matter of survive or die. That may sound dramatic, but it’s the truth.”

Of course, that can be tough in an economy that hasn’t fully recovered from one of the worst recessions in this country’s history. The fact that Southwest Georgia is one of the poorest regions in the entire nation doubles down on the difficulty factor.

Plus, locally-owned and -run businesses also must contend with the “bargain-hunters” who fail to look beyond the bottom-line cost of a product when making a purchase.

“I’ll have someone come in and ask for prices on our products, and they’ll say, ‘I can get that for $2 or $5 or $20 less at Walmart,’” one retailer said. “I used to tell them what they wouldn’t get if they bought the products at Walmart or one of the big chains — customer service, technical support, information, personal service — but I stopped.

“Now I just tell them to go ahead and buy what they want at Walmart. It’s amazing the number who come back to me and say, ‘I didn’t get this or they don’t do that.’ It’s just a tough, constant battle.”

If your finances are like mine — and pray they’re not — you have every reason to watch every penny you spend, to shop wisely before making necessary or even frivolous purchases. But before making a purchase that might save you a buck or two in the short-term, perhaps you’d be well-advised to start thinking long-term. And part of that includes how your purchases impact our community and its ability to provide services.

Most people who look a little deeper at the impact of their shopping habits discover that “Shop Local” is more than just a way to keep your favorite family-owned restaurant or the quaint notions and apparel shops in business. It’s an investment in your community and its people.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.