It’s up to us to help local business owners

Remember watching those old westerns in which the hero would ride into town only to find it all boarded up and tumbleweeds blowing down the abandoned main street?

When I envision that image, I wonder about the future of shopping — be it malls, superstores, strip malls, or downtowns.

Remember when you used to walk to the corner store in the summer to purchase a pop, some candy, or baseball cards? Those are memories of a shopping experience long gone.

As are other shopping experiences.

A once-thriving superstore now sits vacant, grass growing up through the cracks in the asphalt parking lot.

A very popular strip mall now is two-thirds vacant, a sad reminder of happier times when the parking lot would be filled.

All of us have experienced the sadness of a popular store shutting down. All of us have cringed when we read of new financial troubles for a department store we depend on for our family’s fashion needs.

The world of retail is changing, and, in my mind, not for the better.

In a story this week by Crystal Nelson about the Alpena Mall, Shelly Adamski, one of the co-owners of Karma’s A Fish, identified the crux of the problem when she said people today would rather save a dollar and have an item shipped to their home than to travel a mile or two to shop and support a local business.

Think about it … all of us are guilty of that at one point or another. Yes, we all have done it because of the convenience, or the savings. But, when we do that, we need to understand the consequences of that decision — especially if it impacts someone in the region who also could have handled the sale.

In that same story, Solomon Belay, owner of Molla Investments, which now operates the Alpena Mall, was quoted as saying, “We’re trying to get some quality tenants, but malls are not like they used to be, the retail industry is not what it used to be.”

And he’s right. I cringe when I go into a mall most anywhere these days and see what it has evolved into.

There was a fascinating story by Retail Dive this week entitled, “Will the once marvelous department store ever come back?” Retail Dive is a daily publication that provides managers with analysis and trends in the retail industry.

In that story, which recalls the glory days of stores like Lord & Taylor or Macy’s, the author, Daphne Howland, asked industry experts what it would take today to compete against the likes of Amazon.

“To be successful, department stores really have to work on their ability to incubate new and exciting brands, and have a curated assortment and experiences that drive traffic to the store,” said Michael Brown, author of the report “The Future of Shopping Centers.”

“If it’s all about price, the consumer will stay at home and shop online,” he said. “If it’s about experience and emotional attachment, then consumers will be loyal to that.”

Experience and emotional attachment. Positive customer service. Niche products. All those are the keys that will drive the shopping experience moving forward.

And what about people like Adamski at Karma’s A Fish? If we as a community support small business like that one, there are benefits for all of us. Not only will the local business owner benefit, but, according to officials with the Small Business Administration, two out of every three new jobs created in the U.S. today come from small business owners. With every $100 you spend at a small business, $43 goes directly back into the community.

Personally, I want to see our region prosper and grow. I want businesses to thrive and not just survive. From the business owner’s perspective, the key to that is marketing and advertising. From the consumer’s perspective, it is to shop those stores and support them.

Together, we can make our region stronger.

I believe all of us want to avoid one day being the set for a new western.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.