Editorial: The fear of big boxes
December 22, 2009
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment on a series on lessons learned from the recession. The last installment will publish next Wednesday.
Leaders in the north Tahoe and Truckee area have successfully chased away big box developers for years.
And don’t think those large corporations haven’t tried. Wal-Mart and Lowe’s, for example, are targeting rural areas for the smaller versions of their chains in hopes of continuing to build their voluminous customer base.
And that fact alone and#8212; they aren’t here yet and#8212; distinguishes the area from hundreds of other towns, and even a few resort areas. It can be used as pride for local mom-and-pops who have survived corporate consolidation, which gives the 800-pound gorillas huge pricing and distribution advantages.
Yet, we must also be aware of the costs of such prohibitive policies. Over and over again, we hear locals saying there is nothing to buy here, so they drive to Reno and Carson to do their shopping. And where do many of them and their sales taxes go? Big boxes. Those huge chain stories might be ugly from the outside, but they look pretty to a town’s bottom line, which is the No. 1 reason most towns actively recruit such stores. They can instantly stabilize a region. Or, they can instantly add volatility if they chase a diverse selection of businesses away. And that risk is often not worth taking if you are planning for long-term and localized growth.
In many ways, this region is split between both needs. We are dependent on our grocery stores for sales taxes because the ups-and-downs of retail and real estate have given little to plan for, and even less to predict. But we have a tremendously passionate collection of small business owners who give our region its character and soul.
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Overall, we should be proud that our historic downtowns and lake fronts were not taken over by national corporate chains. But we should not forever advocate against the idea, as long as our locals continue to be devoted to shop in other towns, whose schools, hospitals and social services reap the tremendous benefits. After all, it is mostly the collection choices made by local residents that determine the region’s future.
And choosing to shop downhill, unfortunately, is a good way to ensure that is where everything and#8212; and everybody and#8212; will end up.