I have a close friend who used to love visiting the independent bookstore in her neighborhood. It was a Friday night ritual she had with her boyfriend: Go out to dinner, stroll over to Dutton’s Books, browse through interesting novels and … write down titles they liked and order them online for significantly less money.
Recently, she was telling me how sad it was that Dutton’s had closed. “There are no bookstores within miles of my house,” she said. “Not even a Barnes & Noble. I really miss it.”
I tried to keep my tone polite. “But the reason they went out of business is that there were too many people like you who used their store as a free showroom for Amazon.”
My friend sighed. “What was I supposed to do?” she asked. “It was just so much cheaper to buy online.”
And herein lies the problem. Consumers want the benefit of being able to browse physical products and talk with experts, but they don’t want to pay for it. As a result, more and more brick and mortars are going under. And, to add fuel to the fire, a number of manufacturers and distributors in our industry are being accused of stacking the deck in favor of the online retailers by offering them substantial backend deals.
Our lead story in this issue is about a group of brick-and-mortar dealers in Arizona who are fighting back. We first published an article about this organization a number of months ago, and are revisiting them, in part, because a number of you sent emails asking how the group was doing.
I believe in their cause. My support comes partly because these business owners are my colleagues in the industry and, in some cases, my friends. But more importantly, I am old enough to still remember going to the butcher’s as a child. He was a friendly, red-faced man whose business provided revenue and uniqueness to our community. My neighborhood had a green grocer, a candy store and a wealth of family-owned restaurants. Those businesses are long gone, and with them any sense of personality the area once had. In addition, I believe food — especially meat and produce — actually was of better quality back then.
Today we stand at a similar crossroads. Without locally owned brick-and-mortar stores, firms such as Amazon eventually will be forced to open their own showrooms, further degrading the history and character of our nation’s communities. Moreover, a small-business owner has an understanding of their community and a personal stake in its well-being that large corporations with distant headquarters don’t share.
While I do realize that this is a highly complex, nuanced issue, I am deeply sympathetic to the cause of the nascent group in Arizona. Along those lines, I respectfully ask that you buy from local businesses whenever possible. Our collective survival depends on it.