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One Moment Please... What would you do with $20?

Mon, May 7th, 2012
Posted in All Commentary

I think we all need a friendly reminder from time to time. We need to be reminded of the fragile foundation of our small town economies.

I know because I hear directly from local business owners. I know of long-time business owners who don’t take a paycheck and haven’t taken a paycheck for quite some time. They go about their daily routine serving customers without taking home a single penny. While the general public thinks they are rolling in the dough, they are actually just struggling to make the small-town-business-equation work in their favor. I know of local business owners who have borrowed up to $50,000 against the value of their home so they can stay open for business.

To the average person, this might seem like insanity. For those who work at a place of business where they get a guaranteed paycheck without the worries of cash flow, they don’t understand. They have guarantees, as far as they know.

Interestingly, most of these local business owners probably would have never taken on the challenge of owning a business in our small communities had they known of the challenges that lay ahead.

All of these thoughts immediately flooded my cranium as I saw a post on Facebook shared by Gabby Gatzke. For those of you who don’t know, Gabby works at the Fillmore County Journal and SMG Web Design, splitting her time between both for a combined full-time schedule with our company. In addition, she helps her mother out by working at Chic’s Pizza in Preston. Yes, Gabby has a work ethic beyond words, and we are lucky enough to have her in our town and our business. She is an asset to our community, and she sees the same things I see.

We have another local business ownership connection within our company. Michelle Haugerud owns the JEM Theatre in Harmony and she also serves as the General Manager for SMG Web Design. As many people in our area know, the JEM Theatre was recently forced to upgrade to a very expensive digital projector by the movie industry or face a fate of closure.

It pains me to see so many of our local business owners suffering, and for what? Why? Why do they do what they do? Their lives could be so much more pleasant and relaxing if they just took a paycheck instead of a risk of loss. The reasons they do what they do are many, and only they know why.

But, this I do know. They need you to help them out to keep their business and your town alive. And, this is serious.

Mabel just lost their grocery store. Last year, Fillmore County saw many economic casualties. We saw hardware stores close in Spring Valley, Preston, and Chatfield. In addition, we saw lumber yards close in Preston and Rushford. These types of businesses are critical to each community. I know that the owner of Willie’s Grocery and Locker in Fountain, Willie Cambern, delivers groceries to many home-bound, elderly people in the little town of Fountain. Without Willie’s Grocery and Locker, what would these people do? And, Willie’s grocery store is not alone. I guarantee every grocery store in Fillmore County provides these types of services to their local residents. They don’t ask for any accolades. They just do it, because...

Losing these types of business will kill our small communities, and we can’t afford to have that happen. As the post on Facebook shared by Gabby Gatzke suggests, losing these businesses means that these local businesses, their owners, and their employees are no longer circulating those dollars within the local economy. Those dollars are going elsewhere. And, at what cost? What is the cost of losing businesses like hardware stores, lumber yards, grocery stores and gas stations?

On Tuesday, May 1, I was watching the Today Show and there was a bit about “cash mobs.” Have you heard of “flash mobs?” These are scenarios in which a group of organized and choreographed individuals find a very public place like a shopping mall to break out into a dance routine in a synchronized fashion, all to the surprise of those going about their business within that establishment. A search for “flash mobs” on Youtube.com will give you a good idea of what that is all about.

Well, imagine a cash mob born out of the same concept as the flash mob. But, there is one twist. As noted on the Today Show, there have been over 200 small, locally-owned businesses in America surprised with the visit of a cash mob. Each person in this mob of people agrees to spend at least $20 in the store as they flood the aisles with an intent to buy. Businesses, of course, love this infusion of cash flow into their business.

It certainly seems like a nice idea, and I won’t complain about the premise behind the idea. However, I will say that it sounds too artificial to have any long-lasting staying power for the long-term survival of that business. If anything, the best thing coming out of the cash mob is the publicity it generates to encourage people to buy local and support small, locally-owned businesses.

I was speaking with an EDA director from one of our small communities in Fillmore County a few weeks ago, and this person informed me that another grocery store in a community just outside of Fillmore County was on the brink of closing their doors. Through working with the EDA, they found a way to stay open. As the local grocery store owner indicated, if every person in town spent just $20 per week in their store then that grocery store would be able to survive.

I know I sound like Sally Struthers when I say this, but for just $20 per week the people of that town could keep their local grocery store open. Something people need to keep in mind is that when your town loses a business, that business may never come back again. And, as you lose one business, you run the risk of losing more businesses. It’s a domino effect.

Imagine downtown business districts full of empty storefronts. Imagine every person living in Fillmore County having to drive to Decorah, Winona, La Crosse or Rochester for employment. Imagine having to drive to the bigger cities to do all of your shopping. Imagine your residential property taxes increasing because of a lack of business-funded tax base. All of the small town local businesses support 4-H, booster clubs, post-prom parties, churches, and other non-profit organizations within the local communities. Losing small town businesses hurts those organizations, too.

If you don’t use your local businesses, you’ll lose them. Where are you going to spend that $20 in your purse or wallet?

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