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Fred Clements: Stop the undead: buy local

Published July 3, 2013

Editor's note: This blog post was written by Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Clements' previous blogs can be read on bikedealerblog.wordpress.com


A future world without bike shops would be a disaster for the cycling movement at all levels.

How bad could it get? Imagine millions of Lycra-clad zombies roaming the streets of a ruined world, desperate cyclists foraging through the wreckage of once-great stores, in desperate need of human contact, service, parts and bikes, hoping beyond hope for a kind word of advice, a repair that makes that day’s ride possible, a tire without a gash, or maybe a shot of Gu.

But no. There is no local shop. They have to figure it out themselves, or order it and wait. Or maybe they try to fix it themselves. Maybe it’s their brakes, and they botch the job and die, but can’t. Maybe they don’t ride that day. Maybe they don’t ride for a long time. And, by the way, in this world without local bike shops there are now 75 percent fewer bike brands, and a 50 percent decline in adult cyclist participation. A world without bike shops is not a good place. Even the living don’t smile much.

Back in the real world, bike shops and specialty retailers in many industries continue to exist but are under pressure. It’s a good thing that they’re still around because studies repeatedly show that independent local businesses outperform their chain store and Internet counterparts in many ways, and contribute much more to their communities.

Some advantages of independently owned local businesses, adapted from the Institute for Local Self Reliance:

  1. Local character and 0rosperity: In an increasingly homogenized world, communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind businesses and distinctive character have an economic advantage.
  2. Community well-being: Locally owned businesses build strong communities by sustaining vibrant town centers, linking neighbors in a web of economic and social relationships and contributing to local causes.
  3. Local decision-making: Local ownership ensures that important decisions are made locally by people who live in the community and who will feel the impacts of those decisions.
  4. Keeping dollars in the local economy: Compared with chain stores, locally owned businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue back into the local economy, enriching the whole community. In one study, 52 percent of the money spent at independently owned businesses stayed within the community, versus 14 percent for chain stores, with the independents spending more on local labor, goods procured locally for resale, and services from local providers. This means a much larger share of the money you spend at a locally owned store stays in the local economy, supporting a variety of other businesses and jobs. It has been said that when someone buys from an out-of-state Internet retailer, the only part of the transaction that stays in the local community is the share of time for the UPS driver.
  5. Jobs and wages: Locally owned businesses create more jobs locally and, in some sectors, provide better wages and benefits than chains do.
  6. Entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurship fuels America’s economic innovation and prosperity, and serves as a key means for families to move out of low-wage jobs and into the middle class.
  7. Public benefits and costs: Local stores in town centers require comparatively little infrastructure and make more efficient use of public services relative to big-box stores and strip shopping malls.
  8. Environmental sustainability: Local stores help to sustain vibrant, compact, walkable (and rideable) town centers that are essential to reducing sprawl, automobile use, habitat loss, and air and water pollution.
  9. Competition: A marketplace of tens of thousands of small businesses is the best way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long term.
  10. Product Diversity: A multitude of small businesses, each selecting products based not on a national sales plan, but on their own interests and the needs of their local customers, guarantees a much broader range of product choices.

For more on the movement for local independent retail: islr.org.

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