America is under attack!
No. I'm not talking about ISIS or any political attack. I am talking about something much worse. An attack that is quietly destroying our communities. It is the cyberattack of online shopping.
Retail downtown stores are the visual and the economic heart of our communities. These small businesses, run by our neighbors, are in a life-or-death struggle to survive. E-commerce is the third wave of the attack on America's downtowns. In the '50s and '60s, it was the enclosed shopping mall. In the '80s and '90s, it was Walmart and the "big box" stores. Now it's the internet.
I have personally witnessed the devastation in downtowns that were wiped out by the first two waves. Boarded-up stores and abandoned streets led to surrounding slum areas. It's not pretty.
E-commerce has already captured 8 percent of all retail sales in the U.S. This growing trend continues to steal business at the rate of 1 percent per year.
Small businesses, Ashland as example, operate on narrow profit margins. The local owners, who often get paid only what is left in the register at the end of the week, cannot withstand falling sales and rising costs.
This year alone, five or six downtown stores have closed on our Main Street. That's 10 percent of all our retail stores downtown.
Who is the enemy here? As cartoon character Pogo discovered: "We have met the enemy and he is us." Every time we decide it's easier to order online instead of picking it up locally, we undercut our community. And remember, it's our local stores that also support our Christmas lights, local parades, art walks, special events and flower baskets on Main Street. In addition, they make our downtown interesting for tourists and locals alike. E-commerce hasn't contributed a dime.
Originally, we thought Amazon was only after the book business. Now we see that was just the Trojan horse. Amazon, Google, Zappos, EBay and their growing number of competitors are after all the retail business — from shoes to hats, furniture to refrigerators.
When the internet offers "free shipping," we need to remember that we don't need shipping if we just stop to pick it up at our local stores — and probably have a delightful conversation as well.
We are fortunate to still have a variety of wonderful shops in Ashland. They depend on us.
Only we can stop this assault in our community! Shop local.
— Barry Thalden lives in Ashland.