Compass: Online retailers hurt local economies

By LORI ATROPSNovember 24, 2013 

An independent store advocacy movement called the 3/50 project (more details at the350project.net) says that for every $100 spent in independently owned stores, $68 returns to the community. How? The community benefits through taxes, jobs, supplies, physical maintenance, local accountants, bankers, lawyers, insurance agents, IT support, web site creation, advertising designs and placements in local newspapers, radio, and television stations. Whew, that's the short list.

Consider also that independent retailers tend to pay more than minimum wage, valuing their good employees even as they value the health and well-being of their communities through charitable giving.

When one spends $100 in a national chain, $43 stays local. Spend it online and nothing comes home. That's correct, zero dollars are circulated in the local economy. Using a simple multiplier, for every $1 million an independent retailer earns, $680,000 returns to the community versus $430,000 from a big-box store and versus $0 from an online purchase.

Now we could quibble over those dollar numbers, but what is not arguable is the simple fact that independent stores contribute the most per dollar to the local economy, while big-box stores contribute less and online retail sales contribute nothing. Local businesses give back. Online E-tailers do not give back.

Independent retailers are committed to the cities they live in. We work hard to bring innovative, quality products that work for Alaskans. Whenever possible, we will feature Alaska-made products. Mega E-tailers such as Amazon and Google with no physical presence in Anchorage or Alaska have no interest in the quality of life in Anchorage. Their sole purpose is eliminating the competition as they stalk potential customers online.

The E-tailer drain is immediate and relevant. City budgets are tighter everywhere one looks: schools, city maintenance, police, fire, city employee salaries, city parks and recreation options and multiple city services.

Local economies across the country are searching for additional revenue, including our own. Yet Mayor Sullivan, as well as other politicians, cannot see the forest for the trees. One does not ask for more revenue from those who already make a difference and contribute the most per dollar. One should get revenue from those whose billions go toward creating even more devastation in local economies.

Imagine local retailers increasing, offering more selections and products never before available in a store in Anchorage. Imagine more entrepreneurial local business opportunities in this community because the playing field is level. Multiply the 1 million in sales by local retailers and imagine equally multiplying the resultant additional $680,000 circulating in Anchorage.

I admonish every lawmaker to address this growing inequity. I appeal to readers to support your local independent retailer. What is good for independent retailers -- the home players -- is good for Anchorage.

Lori Atrops is co-owner and manager of Habitat Housewares in Anchorage.

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