Monday, November 17, 2014

Shop Small, Norristown

When I began making entries in my Norristown Diary, one of the first topics I tackled was why small businesses are good for Norristown's economy. I'm not sure how many read that blog, or were convinced of its message, but with the holiday season revving up and Small Business Saturday less than 2 weeks away, the topic ought to be revisited.

First of all, any community that depends on big corporations makes itself vulnerable. Towns all across America who experienced prosperity while their steel mills or coal mines or big factories were in operation, are now in decline since the company closed down or operations were moved oversees or their products became obsolete.

I was in the Detroit area for 2 weeks about 11 years ago. In Dearborn and Pontiac, Michigan, I saw empty car and truck factories, vacant store fronts and abandoned houses everywhere. Detroit itself was slightly better off. Auto company headquarters are still there, at least, plus lots of small businesses. But the surrounding 'burbs, developed to accommodate more and more car and truck factories, look like a war zone.

Norristown has seen this sort of thing happen on a smaller scale as our larger employers have closed down--Wonder Bread, for instance, and most recently, Montgomery Hospital.

It's a little hard to wrap your brain around (or it was for me), but money is a finite thing. A set amount of money changes hands in Norristown each day. Whether that money stays in the community or leaves town depends where it's spent. Spend your dollar at a nationally-owned company--say McDonalds--and a chunk of that dollar will go to the company headquarters in Oakbrooke, IL in profits and franchise fees. Their equipment, food and supplies aren't purchased locally either.

A company needs to provide 3 things to a local community for local economic growth--jobs, taxes, and profits need to stay local. In a corporation, profits are dispersed to shareholders, who could be anywhere worldwide. If you close down a factory, there go the jobs and local taxes. Even if the corporation maintains a local office, it's not giving as much back to the community as it's taking.

If you've been listening to the news, you've heard that casinos are closing in Atlantic City, but one economist I heard last week said that the casinos were never good for that community. They provide jobs, yes, but the lion's share of taxes go to the state and not the local government. Profits go out of state to corporate headquarters and shareholders, and often out of the country. Atlantic City was seeing a boom in dollar stores, pawn shops and poverty long before the first casino closed.

Jus' Java
Each small businesses may not provide many jobs, but spreading the jobs out among many businesses makes the town less vulnerable. Ideally, the best kind of Norristown small business is one owned by a resident homeowner. I'm not only talking about their dollars staying here as property taxes, but being homeowners, they're more vested in our community and less likely to up and move operations elsewhere.

But even if the business is owned by someone who rents, or lives in nearby suburbs, they're still more likely to put a good percentage of each dollar earned back into the local economy. Especially if they realize that by supporting other N-town small businesses, they help themselves.

Anna Catanese Flowers
Small businesses provide a cushion to a town's economy when big businesses move out. In Norristown, the more small businesses we have, the more reliable that airbag is in case of emergency.

So here's the bottom line, to grow our town's economy, we need to increase the amount of dollars coming into town and decrease the amount leaving. That simple.

You can help by shopping at Norristown's small businesses this holiday season. Sure, you can't get everything you need in N-town (not yet--give us time). Still, when you're entertaining, think, say, pulled pork from Sessano's or Banh Mi sandwiches or Mexican or Asian or barbecue take-out. We have 3 or 4 florists in Norristown, plus other residents who do flower and fruit arrangements. We have small businesses who sell Christmas greens and trees and other decorations--Plymouth Produce, for instance. We're even beginning to see a return of clothing shops to Norristown. (I'll see if I can come up with other store suggestions in a future blog.)

Just, before you run out to the mall, stop and ask yourself, "Can I get this in Norristown?" And yes, I understand price can be an issue, but don't assume our small businesses are expensive without checking them out. Personally, I'd rather spend a few extra bucks in town, especially for something made here, than imagine my dollars taking the next fast train out of N-town--maybe even headed out of the country--making our community poorer by the minute

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