At no time of year is the “disconnect” I worry about more obvious, more undeniable than during the holiday shopping season.
That’s the disconnect between citizens, their spending choices, and the impact on their local economy.
That disconnect has happened slowly but unrelentingly over the period of time that national retail went from minimal to massively dominant.
My objections to this thing that happened are not surprising. My clothing stores are just two of maybe a dozen stores still in business from those far better indie retail days of the 1970s and 1980s.
I remember those days with a sense of amazement. The crowds in our stores were surreal back then. The number of units we sold still startles me, makes me wonder how we did it. What happened in our stores happened all throughout our indie retail community?
We were good at it, all of us.
See, I’m not trying to convey a singular experience in my writing. I feel a profound sense of loss for all the so-called competitors that are no longer here to compete.
Actually, there really wasn’t all that much direct competition. We all had our regions, our store locations that served our local shoppers. People came to us in droves and we helped them personally, with connection and warmth and shared concern about getting the recipient the perfect gift(s).
I think we all did a good job of this, even if I feel my stores were the best of the bunch.
That was then. Today, hardly any of us are left to be that connection. Today, we are beset by a barrage of advertisement, advertorial and just plain straight out advocacy on the part of local media for all the best deals out there in “National land.”
When we get to those locations, genuine help is virtually non-existent.
Yes, I know there are exceptions to that overly simplified perception, but by and large, you have to agree that there really is no such thing as knowledgeable service at the national chain stores that have become the overwhelming majority of our options out there.
It’s appalling to me from a professional angle, to be sure. But the topic of this month’s column is the loss to the Detroit-area shoppers of real, warm, friendly, knowledgeable and caring sales people that made the process so much easier, and that actually talked to us and laughed with us as we shopped.
I know this from first-hand experience, having helped thousands of people over my career. It is not a hypothetical thing, nor a false memory. Most of the people reading this remember those days as well.
Many of you will recognize that the pleasure of shopping was long ago relegated to the trash heap. A lot of people now hate to go shopping.
I submit to you that what the national chains now offer is the “why” in that equation. Special has been lost. Warm has been lost. Real and personal have been lost, and together, all those things that helped to make the Christmas shopping season seem so magical have been replaced by innocuous stuff that we are left to fend for ourselves about.
I say lost because all these local stores are far less prevalent. There are still lots of stores, though, that do exactly what I’m accusing national of taking away from us. Independent and locally owned businesses are still here to do our things to provide a benefit through our service. In doing so, we also serve to act as defenders of a Christmas spirit that otherwise feels all too corporatized here in 2019.
We occupy a far smaller niche than we once did. But the very service I have described as lost is, in fact, available on demand for those who make different decisions.
For many of you, I preach to the choir – you know this and you make sure this doesn’t go away, through supporting indie and enjoying what you get in return.
Mainly, of course, I write this to hopefully make a certain synapse snap to life. I hope to paint a picture that makes you realize that what you’re missing is available to you, yours for the asking.
I’m happy to tell you that the previous 30 columns I‘ve contributed to these papers has resulted in many folks saying, “thank you, I never thought of it that way.” Many of these people have “found” my stores, and that’s great.
I get almost as much pleasure thinking that my perspectives are to any extent the reason that another independent store and shopper have connected. Maybe it’s a new connection, maybe it’s a restored connection. Either way, both are happier. It means trying harder, yes. The rewards, though, are worth it.
Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to you LL, my friends.
Here’s to a happier 2020 that we all bring about by … you guessed it, shopping local!