As horrific as is the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, the proliferation of fast fashion chains, outlet shopping, department store price-cutting and online retail behemoths have proven to be viruses in themselves, decimating local independent stores well before Coronavirus hit. That said, I strongly believe that specialty retailers who use this break in business to reinvent themselves can, and will, survive and even prosper. A fundamental component of this reinvention should be a viral campaign to ‘Shop Local.’
I recently received a compelling e-mail to this effect from the ever-outspoken Peter Rose from Chelsea Menswear (who published a longer version in his own community—Wyandotte, Michigan). His premise is that despite an unprecedented swell of support for small, local and independent businesses, these businesses are fighting for survival and desperately need a widespread viral campaign to save them. I share his thoughts here in hopes that MR readers will spread the word in their own communities.
Writes Rose: “I’m seeing a flood of ads for, among countless other things, wine-to-your-door companies. Promises of steep discounts, great selection, free freight, etc. Considering the size of our community, how many cases of wine do you think could be perhaps cajoled out of us? Make no mistake: The answer is NOT zero. And every case of wine purchased from an out-of-state supplier takes that money out of our local businesses, weakening the capacity of our shared, complicated economy to rebound. While many consumers need no education or encouragement to shop and spend at locally-owned businesses (not just at the local Walmart), believe me, we are in the minority.”
He goes on to suggest that this pandemic might be a much-needed wake-up call. “Perhaps it takes this outsized, all-encompassing Coronavirus event to figuratively shake us by the shoulders and get us to finally wake up. I was making this point long before Coronavirus: a model that siphons money out of the region where we live and do business simply does not work.”
Rose maintains that the damage already done is huge. “Many stores and restaurants will not recover, which will dramatically dampen the re-start of jobs that makes our economy work. Be prepared, my friends, for ‘feeling it’ on a broad scale. Places you patronized will not re-open. The longer we are shut down to combat the spread, the more will fail to recover. Lost businesses don’t just mean loss to the owners: it means loss to the community in terms of jobs, selection, uniqueness, authenticity, convenience, reciprocal support to our cities, taxes paid in, and more. It is loss of the very sense of community, for everyone.
“Those among us who love our local stores and have always taken responsibility to keep those places thriving will have enormous personal power to reshape the way we do business as signs of life reappear. Simply being supporters is awesome, but actually being the force that shares your enthusiasm for local businesses will make all the difference. Business is not going to come roaring back, friends: it will start slowly, as we gradually regain our confidence. But the more people that make ‘Shop Local’ a viral sensation, the higher the odds that our community will ultimately emerge stronger, not weakened.
“Keeping your money circulating locally is not some abstract concept. Convincing everyone you know to join you, not just now but from now on, is the name of the game. It requires just one specific question we all need to ask ourselves from now on: ‘Can I Get it Locally?’ Then brag about it. Don’t just be quietly satisfied, knowing you personally get it. Boast, brag, URGE. Tell everyone you know that if they aren’t doing the same thing, just as religiously, we’re collectively diminishing our region’s return to vitality. More than ever, they–and YOU–are needed. The only thing that will prevail over the Corona virus is a viral response. We can do it, friends.”