Santa Barbara View, July 23, 2013
Back from a three week excursion to the Balkans and Russia, I didn’t imagine Santa Barbara would share much in common with one of the largest structures inside of the Kremlin Walls; but I was wrong.
The vast shopping mall, called GUM (pronounced ‘goom,’ not ‘gum’) with its 794 foot facade and glass domed roof, is filled with three stories of international, high-end retail stores. The joke for the locals- well, except for the Chinese and the Russian mafia – is that no one can afford to buy any of the items displayed in the over 200 stores represented. The storefronts are small, with eye-candy offerings of imported china, furs, clothing, jewelry and accessories sparkle …rather like boutique billboards.
It is the trend among the mega-giants; downsizing in targeted communities, while tapping cellphone signals to monitor buying behavior. And what does this Snowden-like, unaffordable, international fashion feast have to do with our local and regional commerce?
It is exemplary of what is happening along the retail stretches of State Street and throughout our California beach-side communities, putting our locally owned businesses into bankruptcy and turning each town into a cookie-cutter replica of one another.
In Malibu, California, a small but determined group have formed “Preserve Malibu,” in an effort to keep chain store developers from forever changing the character of their town. And they are not alone. Communities such as Sausalito, Arcadia, Ojai and Coronado have all successfully passed ordinances aimed at slowing giant retailers from not only changing the face of Main Street, but making rental space unaffordable to locally owned businesses.
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance offers the Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses:
- Local Character and Prosperity- In an increasingly homogenized world, communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind businesses and distinctive character have an economic advantage.
- Community Well-Being- Locally owned businesses build strong communities by sustaining vibrant town centers, linking neighbors in a web of economic relationships, and contributing to local causes.
- Local Decision-Making- Local ownership ensures that important decisions are made locally by people who live in the community and feel the impacts of those decisions.
- Keeping Dollars in the Local Economy- Compared to chain stores, locally owned businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue back to the local economy.
- Job and Wages- Locally owned businesses create more jobs locally and, in some sectors, provide better wages and benefits than chains do.
- Entrepreneurship- It fuels America’s economic innovation and prosperity, and serves as a key means for families to move out of low-wage jobs into the middle class.
- Public Benefits and Costs- Local stores in town centers require comparatively little infrastructure and make more efficient use of public services relative to big box stores and strip shopping malls.
- Environmental Sustainability- Local stores help to sustain vibrant, compact, walkable town centers- which in turn are essential to reducing sprawl, automobile use, habitat loss and pollution.
- Competition- A marketplace of small businesses is the best way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long term.
- Product Diversity- A group of small businesses, each selecting products based, not on a national or international sales plan, but on their own interests and needs of local customers, guarantees a much broader range of product choices.
Mega-stores such as Home Depot have captured more than half of all hardware and building supply sales nationally. Once seen as a source of convenience to both homeowner and builders, they are now gobbling up installation services. Whereas they used to be a source of referrals for local subcontractors, they are increasingly bringing in their own groups for higher premium and profit margins.
One needs to look no further than the square-foot costs for rental space on State Street to see the destructive force of developers and commercial real estate groups, but who do we complain to, our Chamber of Commerce where they’re all members?
We live in a supposedly consumer-focused, bigger-is-better ideology that dominates our economy. According to the Stacy Mitchell of ILSR, studies comparing California farming towns and also Midwest manufacturing cities found that communities comprised primarily of small, locally owned businesses had “a richer civic life, with twice the number of community organizations, twice the number of local news sources…and better scores on more than 30 measures of well-being, including literacy, acreage of public parks, and the extent of poverty.”