Tahlequah Daily Press

February 11, 2013

Scratching one another’s backs


TAHLEQUAH — According to a recent report with Entrepreneur.com, mom-and-pop stores are experiencing a resurgence, especially in downtown corridors of smaller towns. That’s good news for communities like Tahlequah, where small, family-owned businesses still play key roles.

The so-called “big box” stores took their toll on mom-and-pop shops during the 1980s and ‘90s, often squeezing out businesses that had thrived for decades. But now, though customers still shop at “chain” stores, they say they’re also yearning for a moral personalized shopping experience that only the smaller shops can provide.

It’s not just nostalgia at work. Somewhat paradoxically, the Internet is responsible for much of the revival. Many hometown stores are catering to customers in ways they’d never thought about even five years ago by offering online ordering. And even shops that don’t sell products or services through the Internet can nevertheless maintain a presence there.

Community newspapers are also getting in on the action. Readers continue to trust hometown media outlets more than the state and national varieties, and newspapers are parlaying that into a base of operations for local retailers. Many “main street” shops are finding new markets for themselves with online advertising, which pairs the same reliable news sources with spotlight exposure. And social media is also an important element. It’s the same, but different; virtual advertising and online shopping, as opposed to print advertising and storefront traffic. It’s a symbiotic relationship, because everyone who’s part of the community will benefit.

Small towns offer an at-your-fingertips example of the “string theory” physicists talk about these days. Everything is interconnected, and what affects one part affects the whole. No one business can maintain its strength without help from the others. This is why choosing to shop at home matters, and is almost always the best choice. Not only does it keep your tax dollars at home to be used for local projects, it supports businesses that, in turn, support you as a consumer. Not only is everyone a consumer, but everyone has a stake in the community – either as an employee of a business or institution, or as an owner of one.

In a small town, you might not know everyone, but chances are good you know a lot of the folks who share your geographic corner of the world. Chances are also good you’ll be doing business with those you know, and those who do business with you or your employer. Loyalty does, and should, matter.

A grocery store manager may see a funeral home director shopping frequently in his store. When a member of the store manager’s family needs final care, he’ll likely give this particular funeral director a call. The hamburger drive-in owner is going to get his hair cut by the beautician who drops by for a malt every other week. An insurance salesman shopping for a ring for his wife will take his business to the jeweler whose policy he holds. And newspaper employees and their families will give their allegiance to businesses that advertise within their pages. The same is true even for larger national chains; they may not be locally owned, but they employ local people.

This cycle of consumerism, bolstered by loyalty and a sense of community, makes any small town tick. If people stop wearing necklaces and rings, the jeweler will go out of businesses. If diners decide they prefer fish to hamburgers, the drive-in will cease to be. The same fate could await plumbers, newspapers, radio stations, insurance salesmen, and the man who sells hand-carved wooden chairs, unless the community continues to embrace each vital part of the whole.

Tahlequah’s business community is an eclectic mix. As we’ve said so often, we’re all in this together, and we must rely on one another for our individual success. We owe it to ourselves, and our neighbors, to ensure our businesses thrive into the next decade, and the next – and beyond.