The front of the poster shows Uncle Sam with his arms embracing a store owner and a shopper, superimposed over an outline of the state of Iowa and a drawing of Main Street. The back lists ten reasons to support independent businesses. Number one: Money spent at a local business stays in your community.
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The Locally Owned Business Organization (LOBO) of Grand Junction, Colorado celebrates its first anniversary this month. In a year’s time, LOBO has grown from a handful of founders to 52 dues-paying members, ranging from retail stores to contractors, banks, and media outlets.
"Our goal is to develop a strong presence in the community and convey to people that there are very important reasons to do business with locally owned companies," says Don Teets, founder and president of LOBO.
Faced with a gap in the local retail base—no pharmacy or bookstore, for example—city officials almost invariably try to lure a national chain into the community. There often seems to be little alternative: how exactly does a town go about establishing a new independent business to fulfill an important function?
While there’s no obvious path and it may well prove more difficult than attracting a chain, officials of Orono, Maine recently demonstrated that it can be done.
Wal-Mart already operates twenty stores in Maine, including three supercenters, and ranks as the fourth largest employer in this state of 1.2 million people. But that’s not enough. Wal-Mart wants to open supercenters, which combine general merchandise with a full supermarket, up and down the coast. This would enable the company to become the dominant, if not only, retailer in many of Maine’s communities.
At every turn, however, Wal-Mart is facing organized opposition from local residents.
Starbucks expected few hurdles when it sought city approval to open a fifth store in Evanston, Illinois earlier this year. That all changed when twenty neighborhood residents showed up at the Zoning Board meeting to voice their opposition.
Delighted to find others shared their views, the residents began working together to spread the word about the impending Starbucks and convince the city to deny the company a special use permit to build.
In September, Wal-Mart was hit with three separate charges of predatory pricing. Government officials in Wisconsin and Germany accused the retailer of pricing goods below cost with an intent to drive competitors out of the market. In Oklahoma, Wal-Mart faces a private lawsuit alleging similar illegal pricing practices.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection filed a complaint with an administrative law judge accusing the retailer of violating the state’s antitrust law.
As the story above suggests, Wal-Mart routinely engages in predatory pricing. But the company would prefer not to break the law in the process. To this end, Wal-Mart has joined with Murphy Oil in an effort to repeal a Florida law that prohibits predatory pricing among gasoline retailers.
The two companies financed a "consumer" group, the Coalition for Lower Gas Prices, which contends the Motor Fuel Marketing Practices Act costs Florida consumers $150 million annually in higher gas prices.
A judge is expected to rule within weeks on whether a lawsuit filed by four independent video stores against Blockbuster Video and seven Hollywood studios may be certified as a class action suit. The suit charges Blockbuster and the studios with attempting to fix prices, a violation of the Sherman Act and California state law. The suit was filed last year in a Texas federal court.
In September, California Governor Gray Davis vetoed a bill that would have clarified state law to require that all retailers with a physical presence in the state collect sales tax on internet transactions.
Despite the veto, the campaign to enact the bill accomplished a great deal by raising awareness and building support for tax fairness at both the state and national level.
As corporate chains have taken over much of the retail economy, they’ve left the American landscape littered with dead malls, vacant strip developments, out-dated outlet centers, and empty big box superstores.
The problem is two-fold. Chain stores are multiplying at a staggering pace and creating a glut of retail space. In the last 12 years alone, per capita retail space has increased 34 percent, from 14.7 to 19.7 square feet. Most communities have more retail space than residents can support.