The holidays are coming, and for retailers, especially independents, anticipation is high. As you visit our local stores you will probably notice that the shelves look a little fuller with newer merchandise, their best guess as to what we will want to buy to celebrate the season. I’m not sure of the percentages, but I think it’s fair to say the next few months will literally make or break their year.
A recent article in the Star Tribune about one of our local independents, Micawber’s Books, shines some light on the challenges of running an independent business and the power of a community to make a difference.
It described Micawber’s efforts to develop a new business plan in the midst of difficult economic times for independent bookstores. It also referenced a group of neighbors supported by the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation that have been meeting with owner, Tom Bielenberg, to try to help him navigate the challenging waters and changing times. One of the outcomes of those meetings was to set up a series of Monday night shopping events at Micawber’s hosted by various interested neighbors that have proved successful in helping Tom stock up his shelves for the holidays.
Micawber’s short-term picture is certainly rosier than it was a month ago, but I don’t think we can relax and assume that the crisis is over or that come Jan. 1 the road forward will be obvious and fruitful. Not for Tom and Micawber’s and not for the other retailers, in north or south St. Anthony Park.
So, when purchasing, think of your neighborhood first, then expand your search. And go ahead and do price comparisons, not just of single items but across the board. Don’t forget to add the cost of driving, which AAA averages as 60 cents a mile these days. Google tells me the nearest Target is 2.3 miles from my house, so that’s about 5 miles round trip. That means you can tack on another $3 per trip, not to mention the time spent and driving hassles.
And then there’s the service. Target is a fine store and we shop there, but next time you can’t find what you want, ask them to order it and see how that works for you. Last time I asked Tom Spriegl at Speedy Market for a different blend of lettuce, it was there the next time I went in.
Or ask the clerk in the Target hardware section who was called over from electronics to answer your question about the intricacies of toilet replacement parts. Steve Garfield over at Noll Hardware on Raymond Avenue will not only get you the right part, he’ll draw you a diagram and talk you through the repair. You can find that level of expertise and personal service throughout our district.
Independent retailers know they can never appeal to shoppers who care only about the lowest price. They trust neighbors will understand these wider benefits of buying from people you know by name. No matter where you live in our community, think about what it would be like with no independent retailers.
No running to Bibelot or Peapods for that last-minute gift, or stopping into the Little Wine Shoppe or Sharrett’s on your way to a friend’s dinner party.
No Speedy gift cards donated to worthy causes. No _____ for ______.
You fill in the blanks with your favorite of the 50-plus independents in our area.
Finally, when it comes to independent retail, once a store goes, it’s difficult to get another one like it to take it’s place. No matter the circumstances of the failure, the impression left is that the neighborhood will not support that type of store. We’ve been there and done that.
We are fortunate now to have good stores, good merchants and good business neighbors. Let’s support them and help them be the best they can be. I know I wouldn’t want to lose any of them.
Jon Schumacher is the executive director of the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation.