Monday, October 8, 2012
Thinking about buying local
Commentary by Bryan Tagas
For literally years after the demise of our local bookstore, Madison Park Books, hardly a month went by without someone bemoaning the loss of this neighborhood treasure. "How could it be allowed happen?" people asked. "Can't something be done?" Even now, there is a group dedicated to finding a way to bring back a bookstore to Madison Park, though even those involved recognize that the economics just don't work. The bookstore closed because too few people were interested in buying their books locally when such convenient alternatives presented themselves: the big-box stores such as Barnes & Noble and, perhaps more to the point, Amazon. Independent book sellers can only survive in this new world by having a substantial and loyal audience willing to buck the tide. It can happen (witness Elliott Bay Books, now on Capital Hill), but it didn't happen here. There were just not enough customers left for Madison Park Books to remain viable in the face of competition and rising rents.
Though some Madison Parkers feel that local landlords should effectively subsidize marginal neighborhood businesses with below-market rents, this is not the way the free enterprise system works. Businesses must compete successfully or they will fail. For Madison Park shop owners, this means having a loyal local client base, since each year Madison Park seems to be less of a destination shopping neighborhood. I've previously quoted Lola McKee, the community's longtime doyenne, as saying that the way things are going down here, Madison Park will be soon known only as a place where you can get a good meal, have your hair done, or cash a check. It could come to that.
For those of us who care about preserving the elements that make Madison Park great, however, let's remember that the our local shops are part of the ambiance, vitality, and convenience of the neighborhood. Without them, something irretrievable will be lost, and Madison Park will be a lesser place. My purpose here is simply to point out that fact, since it can be easily overlooked.
My personal ephiphany came in a kind of pleasantly jarring way while I was standing in line at Madison Park Hardware one day a couple summers ago. I may have been holding a lightbulb in my hand (or perhaps it was a container of slug bait) when one of my mouthy neighbors suddenly yelled across the store from some back aisle: "Gee, Bryan, if all you're going to do is come down here to buy your emergency items, this place is never going to make it!" Though hardly a cross-in-the-sky moment, the jesting words of my neighbor got me thinking: if we want neighborhood shops in Madison Park for their convenience, we better make sure to patronize them every time we can. Or they may end up going the way of Madison Park Books.
As a banker I am not protectionist, believing that people should have the ability to make free choices about what they buy and where they buy it. Sometimes convenience means ordering on the internet, and sometimes getting the best price means buying from one of those box stores. But if what you want is available here in the Park and you choose to get it elsewhere, just remember that there are implications to your decision. The continued existence of many area businesses depends on people choosing to "buy local" and promote the economic health of our community.
Something to think about.
at 9:43 AM