Walking along the main street of Kingston, Ontario, I was struck by the number of “For Lease” and “For Rent” stores. This is nothing new these days. It’s the same in Toronto, one of the largest cities in Canada and this scenario is playing out across North America. But what was most telling about this situation is every one of the empty retail stores used to be occupied by small business owners. What is left are the big name, big box stores interspersed with vacancies. Shoppers Drug Mart, Canada’s largest pharmacy, has a brand new location that spans half of a block. Chapters (the biggest Canadian bookstore chain) seems to be flourishing. Roots and The Gap’s shelves are well stocked with merchandise waiting for the back-to-school university crowd to return in September. The economic law of supply and demand will tell you this is a healthy situation because consumers are determining which retailers are the strongest and the rest are obliterated. But, as consumers, is this what we really want? This state of affairs reminded me of the popular 1998 movie, You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Meg Ryan played a local bookstore owner who eventually lost her business when the big box store opened in the neighbourhood. Personally, I think it’s sad the small businesses are dying off because I like the variety and personal service offered by small businesses. What about you? What type of store do you generally like to shop in? Now ask yourself this: How will you feel when there are no alternatives to the big box retailers? Will you miss the local businesses? If you experienced the same sort of yearning for the unique products offered by the small businesses then it’s important to take a stance now by actively seeking out and purchasing from the “little” guys. Because once those stores are gone, they’re gone and they’re not coming back! I don’t want to end this post on a doom and gloom note. There are still a few success stories of local businesses winning out. On Avenue Road in Toronto, Videoflicks is a locally owned business that rents DVD’s and videos and they’ve been there for over 20 years. Blockbuster used to exist one block away but, as we all know, Blockbuster was forced to close most of its store locations. Now Videoflicks is enjoying a captive audience of the local community’s movie rental business. But Videoflicks still can’t rest on its success because, of course, the threat of the iDemand TV channels and subscription services will increasingly eat in to their market share. I love shopping at Videoflicks and I hope they continue to thrive. The owners are really nice guys who work hard and are extremely knowledgeable about movies. Over the years, I haven’t had to remind them how old my sons are and, therefore, what type of movie is acceptable. Joe and Steve, the owners, have guided us for the past 20 years from PG to R-rated movies (my sons are now 20 and 18 years old) very happily. What’s happening to the small business owners in your neighbourhood? Have they been able to successfully manage through this tough economy during the past few years?
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