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Small Business Saturday

Nov 23, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Local business owners offer as much as online merchants -- and then some

There is a very real worry among storefront businesses that a critical stage has arrived in American consumerism, a tipping point that has been exceeded, so that when most consumers think of buying something that isn't for an immediate need, they no longer consider buying it locally -- or even from a walk-in store at all.

If that describes you, then please consider this Black Friday appeal: Give your local stores a chance.

There are certain bedrock elements for the viability of any city of any size, and a strong local retail community is one of them. When local business begins to erode, a vicious cycle often ensues. It is not just a matter of choice and opportunity, it is a matter of appearances. When the business district doesn't appear as vibrant as it once did, then consumers begin to jump to conclusions. From the outside, potential new business owners do the same, perceiving a discouraging climate instead of an encouraging one. Fewer businesses open or expand, and more businesses slow down, shrink or close, and the cycle continues.

Fremont County's two biggest retail centers, Riverton and Lander, both have had more success than many other Wyoming towns in preserving a local business community in the face of big-box discounters and Internet shopping. But it is a battle, and coordinated events such as this weekend's "Small Business Saturday" promotions are crucial for the continued prosperity of both the businesses and the communities they serve.

Nothing says "this town is dead" better than a lack of opportunity and diversity in retail. And that impression is made real when local residents stop supporting their local businesses.

A great attribute tied to the rise of the online communication revolution is the element of worldliness it gives all of us. We are citizens of the world in ways never before possible thanks to the clicks of the mouse and the ease of our touch screens.

But even someone with a 4G smartphone or a state-of-the-art laptop computer lives somewhere. That person relies on the local police force, the local sanitation service, the fire departments, the schools and the service businesses. And those businesses and services all do better if local retail can thrive.

So here are 10 things your local retailers want you to know:

First, they are still here. They have merchandise on their shelves.

Second, they often will work to match prices seen elsewhere.

Third, if they don't have what you're looking for, they usually can order it for you and have it within a couple of days.

Fourth, if they do order your item, they often can get it cheaper than you can get it online because they are entitled to a dealer discount that you can't get at home.

Fifth, they provide a level of service, expertise and personal attention that are impossible online.

Sixth, when you buy locally there is a face and a name attached to what you buy. A local merchant stands behind what he sells in a way no online seller can.

Seventh, merchandise bought locally can be seen, picked up, tried out, tried on, and compared to other merchandise in the store. Just try doing that on your computer screen.

Eighth, local shopping keeps the money in town, supporting local taxes and local services.

Ninth, local shopping supports local jobs. We've just come through a bruising presidential election in which both candidates spoke relentlessly of job creation through the support of small businesses. This is exactly what they were talking about. It applies to you, not "other people."

Finally, local shopping keeps you closer to front and center of the retail process. You matter more as a consumer, a resident and a person to your local storekeeper than to the computerized file server that accepts your mouse-clicked order online. You have more influence.

Everyone -- including your local shopkeeper -- shops online. There is no denying it, nor any reason to try. But there are many reasons to keep local stores in your buying habits. We've just listed 10 of them. Want more? Stop into a local store and hear all about it.

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