Friday, July 9, 2010

Stand Up and Support Your Local Businesses!

So recently a local landmark has been ousted from our downtown area. This has prompted me to take off my mom hat for a few moments and put on my business owners hat for a moment.

Websters Bookstore in downtown State College is owned by a local woman who also happens to be a friend of ours. She has a lovely store full of eclectic and informative books, notecards and a wonderful coffee bar. What I think Websters offers most to the masses though is the ambience. On the occasions I have found myself walking past I have seen the familiar faces of Websters sitting outside sipping coffees waxing on about this and that. Websters recent plight is not an unfamiliar tale to State College. Rents downtown are exorbitant, and the buildings are in horrible disrepair, parking is a bear, its not very family friendly and locals really just don’t like heading downtown. Instead of the adorable boutique-y feel that most college towns have, ours has been reduced to bars, bike shops, banks and Penn State Apparel stores. Our town used to have those quaint little stores but over the last 10 years we are seeing more and more of our local businesses not geared toward students and Penn State fall by the wayside. Now here is a business that has been geared toward students and PSU going out of business because the business is not able to pay the rent. People are shocked, outraged and just can’t help but wonder how could this happen?!

Owning a local business I know far too well how this can happen. My store offers a free play area for children to play along with coffee & snacks for parents/caregivers to sit and relax while their kids play. Our store, like Websters, is first and foremost a retail store and in order to pay then rent we have to sell a certain amount of merchandise each day in order for us to remain open. This sounds simple right? Well, I can tell you that there are days that the play area in my store has been very very busy, but cash register is at 0 sales for the day. Now that Websters is facing being closed their supporters are rallying and I pray that their supporters are able to secure the funds they need for their store to stay open. I think though that moving forward perhaps we as a community need to be a little more proactive about supporting our local businesses.

I know that because I own a business this may come across as a little rude. Trust me I know that its easier to go to Walmart or Target, you will probably save between $1-$5 too. The problem is we as local business owners strive to offer amenities and a level of customer service that the big box stores simply cannot offer . We share one commonality with the big box stores, we have bills to pay, but unlike these big box stores we usually see little to no return. . For the few that have been blessed to be uber successful my hat is off to you! I know first hand it was not just handed to you, you have worked your behind off to get where you are. For the rest of us though many times the businesses we pour our hearts and souls into end up putting a huge financial strain on our families and end up in ruin.

So here is the challenge that I offer to you. There is a project called the 3/50 project. Check it out and I hope that you will accept the challenge! I am sure that if more people bought more than just a cup of coffee at Websters they would not be in this financial trouble right now. Frankly, it took owning my own business to open my eyes to how important it is to support your local stores, local restaurants etc.. I try to as much as possible but old habits die hard.

Currently, Websters in downtown State College is having a ½ price sale on all their books.

Thank you so much for your support of local businesses!

1 comment:

  1. I love Webster's and am a huge supporter of local businesses when I feel it's appropriate, but I have mixed feelings about this.

    As a business owner myself, I feel strongly that a big responsibility rests on business owners to be creative in their business models to make people *want* to buy there. Here in Northern Virginia, I know several small business owners who complain the customers treat them like "museums" and never buy anything. To me, this is not a failure of the customer to support but a failure of the store to carry things they want to buy. It is not the obligation of the customer to support you. There is no reason people should buy things they don't want or need.

    Maybe small businesses can find ways to add value and charge for that value. Several businesses in my area charge a small fee for use of their play area, for example. My favorite local indie bookstore (from which I buy all my books even though I no longer live nearby) adds value by being willing to order any book I want so that I don't have to use Amazon. Their outstanding customer service has made me loyal. Bottom Line: Yes, support local businesses, absolutely. But recall that successful businesses are those that give customers what they want.