The Vultures Swoop In

Josie Leavitt -- January 20th, 2012

The store next door to my bookstore is closing. They sell eco-friendly products and composting supplies. Home Ecology: Your Green General Store has been open less than two years. And it saddens me that they are closing. But what really disturbs me isn’t that they’re closing, it’s that some folks are just now shopping there.

Our customers here in Vermont have surely embraced the Shop Local credo for the bookstore. They are making a point to let us know that they are deliberately choosing to shop with us and not with a chain or Amazon. But Home Ecology, a store with more diverse competition, has had a harder time defining the enemy around whom potential customers can rally, and this has been part of the problem for them.

The other thing they seem to be missing is support. The book industry has done a really good job getting the word out about why every local bookstore needs your business. Between the ABA, all the regional trade organizations, and all the work the indies do themselves, the message seems to be getting through. I don’t know much about other retail organizations, but it seemed to me that Home Ecology had no help from a trade group. This made me all the more appreciative for the resources, talking points, etc., that I have at my disposal.

Every day I’ve seen the parking lot full of cars who have come to buy fixtures and stock, all at steeply discounted prices. These are the same people who’ve never set in foot in the store. I spent some time in Home Ecology the other day and watched as folks amassed large piles of goods and someone asked if a display case could be broken down immediately and taken away that day. I felt awful. I was happy for them that they were moving the inventory, but the predatory nature of the folks made me mad. If only some of these customers had thought to buy a compost bin or a set of glasses in November, perhaps the store wouldn’t be closing. I know I’m oversimplifying, but the difference between failure and success is the  number of people through the door buying things.

And now that word is officially out around town that Home Ecology is closing, I’ve heard more folks say they wished they’d gone there. I try not to bang my head against the wall when I hear that. This seems to be a cautionary tale for all people, me included. If there’s a store in your town you’ve always wanted to visit, well, make 2012 the year you go. It’s really simple: if you don’t go to your local store, whether it’s a bookstore, record store, shoe store or restaurant, it might not be there when you finally decide you want to.

Full of conviction, I’ve started a list of places I intend to patronize before June. There are restaurants I’ve been meaning to visit, shops I haven’t been to in a long time, dog toys I should buy locally. The list is long, but I’m galvanized. I need to do my part to help my fellow merchants. Plus, it’s actually really fun.

8 thoughts on “The Vultures Swoop In

  1. Amanda

    I used to shop at Amazon because yes, they do get things quickly to my front door but what I realized is that by supporting a company like Amazon I was not supporting local stores and the people in my community. Product quality is important, which is why you should shop locally and engage in conversations with staff at the stores in your area. Perhaps they could carry a product in their store that would suit your needs. If you go into a bookstore and then purchase a book, CD, or DVD from Amazon you are guilty of using one store’s resources to support another. Just think about if there were no bookstores and you could only rely on what you saw online. Would you still want to purchase as many products? What do you do? Could you lose your job to an online retailer or have your job outsourced to another country?

  2. Jacqueline Seewald

    Hi, Josie,

    It’s good to hear that independent bookstores are getting support even if, unfortunately, small local businesses in other areas are not. However, I just saw our local Barnes and Noble go out of business in Edgewater, NJ. That was discouraging! All bookstores, large and small, need support.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE TRUTH SLEUTH, Five Star/Gale

  3. Christine

    Patronizing independent businesses is just dandy but sometimes there’s a limited number in a local area that of course specialize in a certain retail product. If you don’t have transportation or have limited mobility you go with what’s convenient and accessible whether that’s a national chain or online.

  4. jane benjamin

    When did buying things become a way to help others? When I shop I am interested in quality, convenience, price, selection. I am not interested in the financial problems of the store owners.

    This week’s end page rant against Amazon and the article above anger me. Amazon delivers the same merchandise TO MY HOUSE at a lower price than I would pay if I went into a store.

    Local food coops are a completely different matter. Local food tastes better. That said, I am thrilled that I can buy cherries from Chile in January.

    1. Christina

      I completely understand the convenience of Amazon (and I shop both Amazon and local bookstores), but the cherries from Chile in January is part of a much larger problem, one that goes beyond supporting a local business. The carbon footprint of those cherries is pretty horrific.

      1. Nikki

        Jane-

        I think you are missing the point of the BUY LOCAL message. By purchasing items locally, not through chains or, more importantly, Amazon, you are supporting yourself, your family, your neighbors, your friends. The people who rely on jobs locally. The sales tax you pay that in turn pay for some of those jobs, that pay for your roads, that pay for your schools, that pay for your hospital. The taxes that THOSE local businesses, not AMAZON, pay to keep all those services IN YOUR TOWN. THAT is what YOU get when you support local businesses. Thank God there are people who GET it, and realize that, if they want a town, a community, a JOB, they should support local businesses to make sure those things happen.
        And there are MANY local businesses that will deliver to your home, should you need them to, often for free. Ask them–you would be surprised at what LOCAL BUSINESSES will do for you.

  5. Eric Luper

    I just visited the local food co-op for the first time yesterday and I really liked it. Sure, I paid a higher price for the stuff I got but I believe it’s an important place to patronize. Plus, I have confidence that the organizers pay more attention to putting higher quality things on the shelves. And things grown and produced locally.

    As for the vultures, it’s the same mentality that comes along with recycling. People tend to say to themselves, “I’m only one person. What difference can I make?” It took a long time for people to go to the trouble of separating trash and getting different bins for different things. But years later, most of us have come around.

    Sadly, the mentality of a population doesn’t shift nearly as quickly as it should and many businesses will suffer as a result. It’s what keeps Wal-Mart and Target and Amazon flush with money and able to advertise so aggressively. Which makes the battle that much harder.

  6. Ginny

    My mom’s green store, ironically also next to a bookstore (Anderson’s), just closed last month as well, and low traffic was definitely a factor. We had a similar experience during our last week as well; even with clearance prices we did nearly as much business as the week before Christmas! It was heartbreaking to hear all the customers tell us how sad they were that we were closing, but it took all my strength not to shake them and ask where they’d been for the last 2 1/2 years! I couldn’t help but compare the lack of trade support to ABA, too. Here’s to many more independent businesses thriving in 2012!

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