I was in Brooklyn yesterday for a meeting with a technology company relevant to my own small business and I notice something on the streets and in the community while I was waiting for the meeting. Almost every single business was independently owned and very product specific.
There was a produce business, and meat market, an independent coffee house and a privately owned electronics store. It was surreal to think that these folks were there by demand and really by proximity to where the consumers lived. The population helps. Thousands of folks within blocks of where these businesses were located. The geography also helped prevent national chains from even existing, with most national chains requiring thousands of square footage for their store footprints.
So I thought about our community and the issues small business owners face in our area. For one, almost everyone has to drive to get to their place of business. The biggest difference for small business owners in the suburbs as opposed to those in an urban setting is the fact that their business must be a destination. They must be good enough at marketing and their business must create a niche in order to grab the attention of the consumer and entice them to drive past a national chain or larger chain to get them to come to their store. In the city, the produce market is right there. the meat market is right there.
In Norristown, Venezia's Meat Market is a good example of having created a business that is a destination purchase. I live in East Norriton. Within 2 miles I can go to Giant, Genuardi's, or Shoprite for my all of my household grocery items. Walmart is right there as well. These "super" markets make it very convenient to go grab grocerys, cleaning products, dry goods, etc all in one place. Most likely while spending the time to do that, I can also buy my chicken, my hamburger, my steaks, etc.
But what escapes most, is the fact that if I drove another mile, I could go get my meats from a local business like Venezia's, get much better quality and pay a lesser price, and I do. I also go to Plymouth produce for my fruits and vegetables which, again, is another stop, but in the grand scheme of things, is still a better value. Plymouth Produce is more than just a produce stand as well. They have ethnic products, hard to find vegetables, spices galore (and economic as well) and a full deli counter where I usually get all of my lunch meat.
Does this really put me out? Am I really wasting the time when all of this could be accomplished in one stop elsewhere? The answer for me is no. Look, I have 4 kids, and at times seems like 100 different activities to cart them off to. Lacrosse, dance, karate, school! The fact that I know I am getting better value, better quality and supporting the LOCAL economy is far more important to me than spending an extra 15 minutes getting to these extra places.
I've heard the argument that these large stores do their part as well in offering employment and by adding to the tax base of the township or community in which they reside. I don't know how accurate this employment statistic is for all surrounding chains, but in King of Prussia, the mall employee base is almost 70% Philadelphia residents who bus in to work in King of Prussia. That's a huge number and points to the fact that these larger retail places aren't really helping out our local economy in terms of job placement.
I'm not saying to boycott the larger chains. Of course they hold value and are good for the local economy and cater to how we now live our lives. Convenience is a great thing. I'm just here to point out that local business is what this country was built on and we should all do our part in searching out those that have acted on their dreams, or are working to preserve their families heritage and have sacrificed to maintain our communities with their labor and expertise. This is also about pointing out what you may be missing. Better products, better service and an overall knowledge that your dollars are going right back into the local economy.