Friday, August 2, 2013

What the Downtowns aren't getting right.

On my way to work today I was thinking about how the local consumerism movement is failing. Not like a fall on your face failing, but like a head in the ground feeling of everything is fine if I don't see how it isn't. Downtowns all over the country are trying to recapture their essence by forming business alliances that encourage shopping locally versus shopping at the mall or your local box store. And for the most part, these downtowns are seeing a resurgence, but at what cost? Are they marketing their downtown businesses to meet the needs of the residents, or are they trying to grab visitors and passerby's, to offer gift items not everyday items? The reality seems to be that these downtown revitalization programs are focusing on getting those with expendable income to buy up goods and services, ignoring the vast majority of Americans who are then forced to shop at Walmart and Target because the stores in their downtown are selling children's clothes for $50 a piece. If the downtowns are trying to revitalize themselves, why are they not selling goods and services that are needed daily by the majority of people?

I feel like the point of rebuilding a downtown is to get the people who reside in your area to think of downtown as their one-stop shopping location, much like many of us see a Mall. The idea is to make a mall like feeling, where you can buy clothes, groceries, cell phones, pay your utilities, learn exciting new crafts, and go to the library, all within the downtown, all locally owned. Don't give people the reason or need to go elsewhere to live their daily lives.

Unfortunately, the marketing that is happening at organizations like Main Street is for the upper-crest of residents - the ones that will go and buy an expensive dress for their grandchild, or a new painting to hang in their dining room. But are these people still doing their daily shopping downtown, or are they reserving those purchases for gift items, making their daily purchases at the box stores that local businesses are fighting against? This is my theory: the residents that support a downtown that offers high-priced goods are not spending all their money there. They couldn't. If you have a small child, you are not going to buy clothes that cost $50 a piece for every single item. No, you're going to buy a nice Easter dress there, then head over to Target to buy up some more reasonably priced clothes they can play in and get dirty.

So the question is this then, who are these downtown business alliance programs actually marketing to? The visitor, the tourist, the passerby? The money that comes in on its way through town, that's seasonal, and that doesn't stay around to maintain support. With the economy consistently struggling, and knowing that chain retailers are not going to benefit our local economy, the business model that is encouraged through downtown business alliances needs to change. Start offering stores that sell goods and services that everyone needs to live locally. Try to serve the many instead of the few.