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Yellow Farmhouse; White Rocking Chair

By Kayleigh Rahn
Last week online retail giant Amazon opened its first automated grocery.

The Seattle store is called Amazon Go. While most are familiar with the self-checkout lanes at large grocery chains, this store took the process one step further by all together ridding checkout from the shopping process. Instead, as shoppers enter the facility their phones are scanned by computers, and they are then automatically charged for any items they put into their bags and take home. Magical convenience.

This sounds amazing, unreal, and honestly truly terrifying. With no clerks or baggers, where does everyone work?

Retail has entered a new age. Shopping has taken on a new face with online ordering hitting a fever pitch throughout our society. The less face-to-face human interaction the better. Free shipping and next-day delivery have become necessities with shoppers young and not so young.

According to Fit Small Business, in 2017 nine retail heavyweights went extinct while the ever-adapting Amazon thrived by generating $80 billion in sales in North America. While that’s fantastic news for Amazon and communities that are lucky enough to be home to their offices, stores, and distribution sites, in our community that’s not the case.

We have the brick-and-mortar throughout two shopping districts and the outlet mall. And our outlet stores are closing.

Within this month another four stores are locking up for good at the outlet mall, leaving the occupancy rate at around 60 percent.

I remember the day I learned the outlet mall coming to town. It came at a perfect time for our family. I was in grade school while my family lived in a townhouse on South Carico Street. My parents were in a tough spot following layoffs when my Dad unfolded the local paper flat onto the white Maytag washing machine. On the front page was a photo of the mall site. The construction crews were moving dirt, and jobs would soon follow.

I wish there was a statistic that could detail how many Douglas County families have benefited from the mall over the years. I know every member of my family has been employed there on and off over the years and at one point all at the same time. Both of my parents have worked in various stores in several different roles, and my brother and I have as well.

The mall kept our vehicles rolling when gas prices were hitting more than $5 per gallon. Working retail in Tuscola helped me pay for rent through college, and part-time, second jobs at the mall allowed my parents to help me through college and give me the wedding of my dreams.

That mall is important. It matters.

Today my heart aches knowing what those jobs have provided for my family, let alone countless others, as more stores have closed over the last several weeks.

However, there’s a twist. In this situation there is power. Someone has the upper hand. The consumers drive the marketplace, and the consumer is you.

You have the ability to choose where you spend your dollar. If the convenience of one-click buy is just too sweet of an offer to pass on, then please refrain from jaw-dropping reactions when another local store “that’s been there forever” is forced to close its doors. Sure there are anomalies. Some stores will close despite popularity and success for unknown or unforeseen circumstances. A hike in the cost of business, whether rent or taxes, are sure to make a store vulnerable, but I believe I’m safe in saying that a leading factor in a business’s success rests with foot traffic and the shopper’s ability and willingness to make a purchase.

There is a chance the same people who have called out doomsday for our local outlet mall have not have spent a dime in those stores during the last six months, while at the same time loaded Santa’s sleigh with online purchases from an unknown distribution center. I point no blame; we’ve all been there.

I only hope as a community we realize what our current shopping habits do to our local retailers.

Of course, online shopping isn’t going anywhere. And yes, this industry like any other creates and supports jobs in some community somewhere.

I’m also not naïve enough to believe that this writing or a group of a dozen shoppers who occasionally purchase their new dress shirt at our mall rather than online or at a larger shopping district (maybe one about 20 minute to the north) will save traditional retail in our community. But I believe in our community’s ability to prop up one another, and the truth is without your dollar spent in our community we all lose. You have the choice.

Another store leaves, another empty storefront continues the frightening trend, the community loses another dozen jobs, and the tax dollars are not recycled into our town and schools.

One day this may be reality everywhere. But maybe not. Maybe it’s a balancing act that requires responsible consumerism. Think twice about where your dollar goes and how you’d like it spent. You work hard for your paycheck. Use it wisely. Help employ a neighbor, and in the end we all win.

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