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Since the dawn of society mankind started to not depend as much on themselves. Things like bartering and trading for goods became replaced with money and thus economies started to develop. After some centuries we became dependent and trapped into becoming consumers. Those who are self sufficient in America are few and far between and there are even laws and regulations that make living off the grid almost an impossibility. In our current society the primary focus has adjusted to what is most convenient, what is the fastest and, perhaps the most important, what is the most inexpensive.
America has become so obsessed with consuming what’s fast and cheap that this is where we are starting to undermine ourselves and any sense of the American Dream. More jobs are being shipped overseas and the jobs that aren’t fall on desperate Americans who have no other choice than to settle for a barely livable wage in an uncertain work environment.
It’s no real secret that large corporate chains have dominated and driven many small businesses to shutting their doors and calling it quits. While stores like Wal-Mart have been on the top of the list as being a threat to local businesses for quite some time, the popularity of the internet has skyrocketed success for businesses that even outshine Wal-Mart for being convenient and cheap.
We know that online shopping has become one of the easiest ways to get anything from a shirt to a CD for ridiculously cheap. On top of that, if you can think of a movie or album title, the internet and specifically sites like Amazon.com make it a breeze to just type, click and wait a couple of days before it shows up at your door. We know this because we’ve done it and it’s likely that you have as well. We went and talked to a few people who work at local businesses in the area on the impact of sites like Amazon have on them and our economy.
We had the chance to speak with Bob Fuchs who has worked with both the Minneapolis and Duluth branches of The Electric Fetus for 26 years and is currently the music department manager.
Reader: So you started working before things like the internet and internet shopping really took off?
Fuchs: Yes, I have.
Reader: A good yes or no question to start off with is do you believe that sites like Amazon.com have affected a business like Electric Fetus?
Fuchs: Oh, they’ve completely affected our business.
Reader: About what time did you start to notice?
Fuchs: Probably somewhere around the very late 90s. By 2000 it was really starting to have an affect on the bottom line. Maybe 14 or 15 years ago.
Reader: What about more recent years?
Fuchs: It’s been pretty steady. We’ve seen with the sales of physical music at least, there’s been steady declines of about four to six percent a year since around the year 2000. So with the combination of Amazon and iTunes things have really changed with physical retail thoroughly and completely.
Reader: Yeah, a lot of people are just downloading music now.
Fuchs: Right, before they were downloading or streaming albums, the big affect recently is that people are buying physical albums online, many to just avoid paying sales tax and others it’s the convenience factor.
Reader: What is the importance of having a regional business like this in the community?
Fuchs: Well, you can see a million different studies but when people buy locally a much larger percentage of every dollar stays in town and it supports other people who work here and other businesses in town. It broadens the tax base and when people buy on Amazon it shrinks the tax base. Large cities like Minneapolis send millions of dollars in retail out the door every month and it supports a lot of different things: roads, schools, firefighters, whatever it might be. When we buy locally, even versus a chain, around 60% of the money stays in town with other non-local businesses it’s more around 40% and with Amazon there’s no money that stays in the area. The money that’s spent here, guess what? It gets spent back in town. It keeps the money circulating around where it started.
Reader: Any other thoughts on this?
Fuchs: Well yeah, I just had a conversation with a friend the other day and we were talking about a particular record and he said, “I just ordered it on Amazon the other day, it’s really great isn’t it?” I and I’m thinking, “you could have come over and picked it up from us right here.” People’s lives are busy, I get it. When you can do something from home and you got family and kids and time is precious it’s easy to order that way. Because it’s (online shopping) so ubiquitous and they advertise everywhere and they have a lot more money, certain things just take over in people’s consciousness. Sometimes in pursuit to save a few minutes they don’t think that they could have ordered the exact same thing from us. I can get it to you in the same amount of time. It isn’t a lot of people’s first thought to shop locally. A lot of it can be done online with local businesses or a phone call. I’ve reminded people that they can buy music from us digitally on our website, the same songs that you get from the same vendors as iTunes. Or physically, Amazon takes three or four days, I can get it to you in three or four days. There’s a small dedicated group of people who always think “local first.” When I shop I always try to find something locally, if I can’t, then I go online. It takes a little more work but I feel really good about it.
While online shopping from sites like Amazon has had a negative impact on some local businesses, this is not always the case. We headed down the street and stopped by the Fitger’s Bookstore and talked with the store’s manager, Sally Anderson, about how online shopping has affected her business. Anderson has been the manager of the store for 16 years and the store itself has been in operation for around 25 years. It was also known as Publisher’s Outlet Bookstore years ago. After talking with Fuchs, we were a little surprised at what she had to say.
Reader: So you’ve been here for 16 years so you’ve definitely seen where internet has become more of a focal point in business. But in the last few years has it affected this business?
Anderson: It’d be silly of me to think that we don’t lose some sales to the internet. There are people who enjoy the convenience of never leaving their house. They can just use their iPhone and order the quick easy way. But we still have a strong local following. There’s people who really want to shop local, keep their money local, support their local bookstores, grocery stores, music stores.
Reader: And that’s what keeps this place running. I noticed that there are a lot of very local specific titles here.
Anderson: That’s part of the mainstay of the stock that we carry is our regional books. We supply a place for both local authors and regional authors to get noticed. You don’t get noticed if you’re on Amazon, it’s a harder sell. People just come in here and they don’t know who these authors are. They look at the bookshelves and see their books and they become interested in them.
Reader: I guess it’s the experience of being hands on.
Anderson: Yes, you get to see the book, you’re looking and maybe it’s not the book you’re looking for but you see it and start reading a little bit about it and that’s what you walk out with. Where on Amazon, I think it’s pretty much specifically going in for a title or an author that you do know about. Finding new authors is a little more difficult unless something is pulling you to it. Children’s books are the same way. People really like coming in and reading it.
Reader: I suppose the normal person, in let’s say California, isn’t going to know about Chris Monroe.
Anderson: No, but locally she’s one of our top sellers and that’s because people come in here and they enjoy seeing her books and they’ve made it grow for her.
Reader: In the future you think that things are just going to pretty much keep going?
Anderson: We’re going to hold. We’re going to be here for a long time. We’re in for the long haul.
What we observed with our couple of interviews is that sites like Amazon are not going away. As consumers it is important to keep in mind where our money goes. We’re not saying to not go eat at a chain like Buffalo Wild Wings, but have you checked out the wings from a local restaurant? It’s unfeasible to always buy local all the time, but finding a little balance does help the local economy. It might take a little time and planning to stop by a farmer’s market over just buying everything at the grocery store. It might take a little risk to read a new local author or listen to a new local artist, but we are certain that there are great things coming out of this area and supporting what we have here might even make you feel good.