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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Feb. 21, 2024

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In Our View: Big benefits to shopping at small businesses

The Columbian

Following the cacophony of commercialism that is Black Friday, allow us to turn your attention to Small Business Saturday.

While Friday was the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season — as large retailers reminded us for weeks — today can be equally important for the local economy. Small retailers might not be able to afford TV advertising campaigns or glossy newspaper inserts, but they play an important role in our community.

Look at it this way: When you shop at a big-box store that has a national profile, state and local sales tax is collected and local employees are supported, but the profit gets sent to a far-off headquarters for a company that pays corporate taxes in its home state. In contrast, when you shop at a locally owned store, the sales tax and employee wages remain in Washington, and so do the businesses’ taxes and the salary for a locally based proprietor.

There are obvious benefits to supporting a store owner who lives in the community rather than one who lives in, say, Bentonville, Ark.

That is not to take away from national retail chains; they employ thousands of people throughout Clark County and they offer desirable products at competitive prices. But small, independent stores do more to enhance the unique culture of a community.

That is the impetus behind Small Business Saturday, which in itself is little more than a marketing ploy. Created by American Express in 2010, the “holiday” is a counterweight to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which typically promote large retailers and e-commerce rather than independent brick-and-mortar stores.

Those brick-and-mortar outlets retain a particular charm. The authors of a 2019 study from Washington State University’s Carson College of Business surmised: “We’ve found shoppers often find inspiration for gifts while perusing the aisles and value in-person customer service and the ability to see and feel the products.”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there were 657,529 small businesses in Washington in 2022, accounting for 99.5 percent of the state’s companies. Those businesses had 1.4 million employees – approximately half the state’s workforce.

Not all of those are retailers, of course. But the numbers demonstrate the impact of small companies in our state. Collectively, there is nothing small about small businesses.

With an increase of national retailers and the rise of online shopping, the demise of small retailers has been predicted for decades. It is difficult to compete with a big-box store that can purchase products at volume levels and sell for discount prices, or with an online retailer that can sell just about every item imaginable and deliver it to your door. While we have yet to find a baguette pillow or a toast-shaped night light in a local store (both are available on Amazon), small retailers offer their own share of unique gifts. Local companies also provide outlets for entrepreneurs and products with a distinctive Northwest feel.

Adding to the stress of the marketplace, small businesses struggled mightily during the COVID-19 pandemic while retailers with a robust online presence reaped the benefits. And an increase in retail theft over the past several years can be particularly hard on small retailers, who often do not have a large profit margin and cannot afford sophisticated security systems.

All of which are reasons to keep small businesses in mind for Christmas shopping. Visiting locally owned stores can provide benefits for our entire community.