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Shop Fillmore First

Fri, Dec 1st, 2006
Posted in Commentary

Twenty years ago you used to be able to buy jewelry and clothes and shoes in our small towns in Fillmore County. For the most part, you can't anymore, those specialty stores are gone. You feel fortunate if your town has a grocery store, a hardware store and a pharmacy nowadays. Some towns still offer stores that sell appliances; a few have bakeries.

We are a mobile society and many of us commute to work in Rochester, LaCrosse, and other larger cities, and, often times, where we work is where we shop.

Take a walk down any Main Street in Fillmore County and you will likely see a few empty storefronts, or, where you would have found a retail store twenty years ago, you now find an insurance office or a street-front church.

In many cases, our small town businesses have become more service oriented rather than retail. In retail, the margins can be tight and volume often drives profits.

The Big Box stores have had a tremendous impact on small towns. A shopper can go to Wal-Mart or Target and purchase groceries, shoes, toys, buy their drugs, get flowers and pay for it with an in-store credit card. Some Big Box stores will even fix your car while you shop. Both Wal-Mart and Target recently announced programs to sell generic drugs at $4 for a month's supply, a price below their costs, to lure consumers into their stores. How can our rural drug stores ever compete with that?

According to Stacy Mitchell, author of the Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses, Wal-Mart captures one of every 10 dollars consumers spend nationally at retail stores.

Big Box stores have such a command of the marketplace that they can often control the cost of a product at its source. And while this allows Big Box stores to offer the consumer the convenience to shop for variety at a low price, the reality is that they don't pay taxes in my home town nor support my local school.

The Rochester Chamber of Commerce recently announced an initiative to encourage consumers in its city to increase their local purchasing by five percent. This phenomena started back in the '80's in Omaha and Des Moines where farm failures led to depressed economies in the rural heartland. Omaha started a campaign called Buy Big O, which encouraged a range of regional trade focused on keeping dollars in the Nebraska city. Des Moines followed suit.

Iowa State University Economics Professor Dave Swenson has studied the impact of these initiatives and concludes that "buy-local efforts have the potential for energizing and helping to focus local development efforts...and create tangible growth benchmarks for communities."

Maybe its time for a Shop Fillmore First campaign for our towns in Fillmore County, where we vow to look locally first when we shop for items we need.

This doesn't mean I won't ever shop in Target again or buy a book from Barnes & Noble, but it means that I will give our local stores and businesses the first shot. It means that I will consciously shop local because I know the dollar I spend in town will make the rounds a few more times. And in the end, if we all do this, we will be supporting stakeholders in our communities, rather than shareholders in a distant company.

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