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December 4th, 2010

Don’t Be Shortsighted: Shop Local in Brooklyn

Yesterday I went “window” shopping on 7th and 5th Avenues in Park Slope for the various gift guides that I’m working on. It’s a real deja vu experience because I’ve done these holiday gift guides many times before.

Shop owners welcome me, remember me from years past, show me their favorite wares, talk.

In some cases, we spoke about the difficulties of the past two years. “After 2008, sales really dropped,” one clerk shared with me. “A lot of our vendors went out of business.”

It’s sobering to hear from local businesses about the economic travails of the last few years. One local business owner told me that he had changed his merchandise since last year. “The high end items seem to sell better. The middle range. Nah.” The tough times have definitely taught many lessons.

At one store, the owner told me that he is convinced that Internet shopping has irrevocably changed the way people shop. What he’s noticed is that people come into his shop to try clothing on for size and color. Then he watches them notate the correct size, color and item number. He’s sure they’re going home to save money by buying that item on the Internet.

“That’s immoral,” I screamed out. It really made me angry. Indeed, people would rather save $10 than reinvest in their community.

“That makes me so mad,” I told him. I could tell it made him mad, too.

This store owners anecdotal observation definitely meshes with statistics and news reports that shops were crowded on Black Friday but sales were flat (though up from last year). Cyber Monday, however, was a breakthrough day for Internet sales.

The above-mentioned store owner has determined that brick and mortar shops must carry items that are so unique you could never find them on the Internet. It also helps to sell items that have price regulations (same price everywhere).

Sad to say, even in Park Slope people don’t get how important it is to reinvest in the community. Spending money in the neighborhood is a great way to support the quality of life around here. If people keep shopping on the Internet, the only stores that will be able to afford to be here are national chains. And then we’ll be sorry because all of the character, local color and uniqueness of our neighborhood shopping experience will be gone.

Here’s what I think: spend a few dollars more to keep our shopkeepers in business.

*note: store owners generally don’t like to be quoted about hard times so all quotes are anonymous. Sorry.

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