Supporting Local Small Businesses
Many Americans can remember when their towns were filled with hundreds or even thousands of small family owned businesses. The prevalence of so many small businesses was at the foundation of vibrant local economies in which millions of families controlled their own economic destinies. As business owners they were fully invested and involved in their communities and felt they truly had a stake in local public policy – particularly policy that would benefit financial independence and the entrepreneurial spirit. This was good for everyone. Money stayed local and turned over in communities several times before going anywhere else, fueling a long running business boom in America from reconstruction after the civil war through the mid-1990s, though the boom fueled by independent business began to tail off greatly by the 1980s. This vibrancy kept the promise of ownership and economic vitality alive and gave children something to look forward to as parents passed businesses on to their kids or provided their kids with the means to get a good education -leading to good jobs or businesses of their own.
As the 1970s passed into the 1980s, family-owned businesses began to get squeezed by the growth of giant corporate retail chain stores and restaurants. The chain stores first popped up at major shopping centers in downtown areas, where small independently owned businesses once thrived, and slowly spread out to the suburbs in the form of strip malls, undercutting many family owned businesses with low prices for products produced in Taiwan or other developing nations. The rise of globalization and free trade meant that large producers could sell in volume for extraordinarily low prices, making it difficult for “mom and pop” stores to stay in business. They just couldn’t compete anymore.
Sadly, with this trend came a drop in product quality as well as customer service and a startling lack of diversity in the retailers one could find. One can now drive to nearly every small to medium and large sized city in the U.S.A. and find that each town is a near carbon copy of the one they just left. Every retail outlet is populated with the same large chain stores and restaurants. Worse, however, is the trend of turning once proud business owners into employees. Towns once filled with unique, diverse, vibrant, and independently owned stores have been transformed into towns dominated by a handful of very large corporations on whom many people now depend for jobs. The trend can be reversed.
There are still strong and fiercely independent retail and other business operations surviving in pockets across the country. Some communities have policies designed to protect these small businesses from large box store competition, and the residents of various neighborhoods and shopping districts in communities like these show their appreciation by regularly shopping at these stores, keeping families working as independent owners and operators of these businesses. The shoppers get wonderful service and quality for their money and they also get a dedication to the community from the shop-keepers that is hard to match in communities dominated by mega-corporations.
Investing in and spending money with small and family owned businesses is a wonderful way to preserve the local character and economic vitality of towns everywhere. The facts about how important small business is to our economy leave no doubt that communities should encourage and support small business. According to the Small Business Administration, small firms generated 65% of net new jobs over the past 17 years. They pay 44% of total U.S. payroll, hire 43% of high tech workers, and produce 13 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms.
The message is clear. Shopping locally and supporting these small businesses benefits communities and the economy at large.