It’s the Christmas season with all the shopping, and merchants are eager to encourage folks to shop locally.
This is a crucial issue. Hundreds of local shops and stores depend on the holiday months for a huge chunk of their profits.
These are your friends, fellow churchgoers, neighbors and citizens. The question of shopping local determines whether they can make it for the next year.
Now more than ever, our local independent merchants are challenged by external forces.
First it was the national chains. Then it was remote catalog buying with 1-800 numbers. Now it is Amazon and Internet retailers. Truly it is a never ending battle.
Our Mississippi government will pay $200,000 per job to lure manufacturers to Mississippi, while simultaneously ignoring local independent businessess that create 100 times more jobs than big foreign-based manufacturing companies.
It is a travesty that Amazon, which contributes zero tax dollars to our cities and states, is able to avoid paying sales taxes while our local retailers must pay seven percent sales tax on every item they sell. It is a testament to the amazing tenacity of traditional brick-and-mortar businessess that they can still compete with such a disadvantage in a business environment where margins are so thin.
It is true that the U.S. Supreme Court has made it difficult for states to impose taxes on out-of-state, online retailers – but not that difficult. Neighboring states such as Alabama have begun to level the playing field and shore up state finances at the same time. It is high time for Mississippi to follow suit.
Our Republican leadership has hidden behind court rulings as an excuse for not acting. In reality, our Republican Party is frozen in its tracks, so scared of doing anything that remotely resembles raising taxes that they are willing to burden the mom and pops while Amazon and company gets a tax exemption. It is not fair. It needs to be fixed.
Maison Weiss proprietor Ken Szilasi made this point in an unusual full-page ad last week in the Northside Sun. The ad featured a close-up of a Jackson pothole. With the admonition: “Dreaming of more car repairs for Christmas? Then shop local this holiday season.”
“If you don’t buy in town you’re not going to help your town,” Ken told me.
Let’s hope readers connect the dots. Ken’s point is that buying stuff on Amazon deprives your local government of tax dollars to repair streets. The sales tax you saved by shopping online is far less than the money you will save on a new automobile front end because your city doesn’t have enough money to pave the roads. Sales tax revenue is one of the biggest sources of municipal tax receipts.
As an independent, local businessman I feel the pain. I cringe when I see people getting their news for free on Facebook or Google. Let me ask you this. What has Google or Facebook ever done to expose corruption and wasteful spending by your local government? What stories have they ever done to benefit your community? How much more money do you lose because local media is losing the resources to serve as a watchdog? Penny wise. Pound foolish.
This is nothing new. The other night I was reading a great forgotten Mississippi author, David L. Cohn of Greenville. He was a prolific author 60 years ago and his writing is magnificent. I was able to order an out-of-print copy of his classic “Where I Was Born and Raised,” from Turnrow Books in Greenwood (a great independent book store).
The book, written in 1948, gives a reader better insight into the history of the Delta than anything I’ve ever read. If you can get your hands on a copy, you will agree that it was worth the effort.
Cohn describes the competitive retail environment in Greenville in the 1940s like this:
The Greenville housewife does not trade with the local grocer unless he can meet the competition of the chains, despite the fact that he is her friend and neighbor, a fellow member of her church, and was liberal in extending credit to her when she badly needed it. She buys when and where she buys for less. All the appeals to her patronizing home merchants to “keep your money at home,” to “spend with those who spend with you,” are lost on the air. If potatos are two cents a pound cheaper at the Big Chain than at Joe Ford’s, the family grocer for forty years, she buys potatos at the Big Chain.
Today, it’s even worse. I’ve heard complaints of merchants whose customers will come in and try on a dress, take a picture of the label with their smartphone and then order the dress online. Ouch! Have these people no shame?
So how is it that our local businesses are able to stay in business? It’s because they compete. They offer better products, better prices, better customer service and a better shopping experience.
There is the tactile feel of seeing and touching a product in a store that cannot be duplicated online. Then there is the knowledge of the local proprietor about what items to stock in his store. There is no shipping cost.
There are stores in Jackson that I know only stock excellent products. I don’t have to spend time or effort doing research. I know that if this store is stocking this product, it is the best on the market. That saves me time and money.
For many people, shopping is an enjoyable experience, an outing, a chance to get out of the house. We are blessed to have beautiful, pleasant shopping venues throughout our state. It makes shopping fun.
The whole shop local movement is a subset of one of the biggest issues facing the world today -- globalism. We can’t get $5 shirts and high-paying manufacturing jobs at the same time. We must choose. The whole Trump phenomenon is related to this contradiction.
In the end, everybody must compete with Silicon Valley. I have to compete with Facebook and Google. Local retailers have to compete with Amazon and Walmart. Factory workers have to compete with the Chinese labor market. It’s tough, but that is our reality. The alternative is an even lower standard of living.
Money spent online and in chain stores goes straight out of state with no little local multiplier effect. If you support and spend money with local businesses, you get an additional benefit of higher tax revenues, a more vibrant local economy and a better community. Think about that before you shop or read online.
Local companies are willing and able to compete and deliver. Just give them the chance to prove it.