The holiday season is upon us. Soon we’ll be tearing through pretty packaging and delighting in the latest electronic gadgets or the trendiest apparel.
Once upon a time, holiday shopping was an experience. Folks carved out entire Saturdays or Sundays and headed to their local downtowns to browse through the retail shops. The experience was fun and quaint. You had lunch at the local diner.
Then along came the malls. People flocked to them. The box stores, with their steep discounts, followed.
With each successive iteration of the holiday shopping experience, consumers were drawn increasingly farther from their hometowns.
Now folks don’t even need to leave their homes to shop. They can order everything online, and it arrives within days. Prices are often cheaper than even the box stores, because many online retailers don’t charge state and local sales taxes.
That’s really bad news not only for mom-and-pop shops, but also state and local governments –– and, ultimately, taxpayers. With reduced sales-tax dollars streaming in, local governments have been forced to either increase property taxes or reduce critical services. Often they have chosen the latter, lest they be accused of raising taxes.
The number of consumers who make their purchases online is expected to reach 270 million by 2020, with Internet commerce largely driven by mobile devices, according to www.internetretailer.com. Online sales are projected to reach $525 billion in the next five years, up 56 percent from $335 billion in 2015. According to the prognosticators, online sales should grow an average of 9 percent annually during that period.
None of this bodes well for the downtown brick-and-mortar retailer.
The Nassau County Council of Chambers of Commerce is seeking state funding to create an advertising campaign to educate the public about the need to shop locally, according to outgoing council President Julie Marchesella, owner of Queen of Hearts, a ladies’ formal wear store in Merrick. That was the council’s key lobbying point at the 32nd annual Small Businessperson of the Year and Legislative Breakfast, held recently at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury.
The state should provide the money. Too many small businesses are threatened by internet-based companies that don’t play by the same rules of commerce as traditional mom-and-pop shops. If we are to have thriving downtowns that are the centers of our local communities, then we must support the local businesses that support us.
As noted, they provide a tax base. They do more than that, however. They sponsor our Little League teams and offer raffles for Kiwanis Club fundraisers. They host Halloween parades and decorate our commerce zones in bright lights for the holidays. And let’s not forget that they employ lots of local folks. They need us, and we need them. If the Internet kills off our local businesses, then we will inevitably suffer.
Consumers “aren’t aware that the sales tax dollars, when they don’t come back to us, are hurting us,” Marchesella said. When you spend your dollars locally, most of the money stays right here.
That’s why the state must act, and start to educate people about the need to shop locally. The state has produced commercials seeking to attract big businesses to New York. It’s about time that the folks in Albany focus on the hard-working small businessmen and women who are, as Marchesella said, “Main Street’s finest.”
And let us not forget: The best way to support local businesses is to shop in their stores and buy their goods and services.