Locally misunderstood

The most frustrating thing about living in a town with so many shopping options – most of which are chains and big box retailers – is the high turnover of small businesses with great charm but slightly higher prices. I’m reminded of this every time I go to Global Liquors on 18th and Minnesota here in Sioux Falls. It’s always empty. I’m not sure it’s going to be around much longer. And that’s a shame, because they have a great selection, including some good Russian beers that can’t be purchased anywhere else.

But many people are not willing to shop there. Either they think it’s “second-rate” – not up to the standards of a HyVee Liquor or JJ’s Wine and Sprits – or they say it’s too expensive. It is more expensive, by a marginal amount. But it’s not second-rate.

“Mom and pop” stores tend to pack in the charm. But their hands are forced when it comes to pricing. They either have a horrible location or they can’t afford the prime spot they’re located at. They make up for this by charging more for their products. They can’t help it. Either they’re bound by their rent or they’re bound by their traffic.

Unfortunately, until people start going – until that clientele is built up and a loyal base is formed out of a core group of customers – the prices won’t be going down. And that leads to the justification that the store is too expensive, too overpriced. This is when you hear things like “How can they charge (insert price here) for this? I can get it at HyVee for 30 cents cheaper!”

Considering the circumstances, how can they get away with not charging that price? They don’t have volume yet. They don’t have enough backing from the locals. The locals keep going to cheaper establishments – places where the atmosphere is pre-packaged and the aisles are formed according to strict marketing research.

In a town like Sioux Falls, where everything is easily accessible and the only travel that is looked down upon is a cross town, east to west (or north to south) trek, businesses can easily be outshone by big box retailers and chains. All other things being equal, fifty cents shouldn’t keep you from shopping at local and new businesses, with owners who are looking for their first big break and depend on people who will go out of their way to enjoy the benefits of a small business.

The atmosphere. The friendliness. Knowing that you’re not dumping your money into some company’s coffers, but instead are helping a small, struggling owner make a house payment. That’s worth the extra money every time.

This was lovingly handwritten on August 6th, 2006