Ruth's Stream of Consciousness: Piloting a Local Business in an E-Commerce World

I've been thinking a lot about the growing success of e-commerce and its effect on our local businesses. What would happen to the neighborhood I grew up in if our dependable grocery store of 60 years (which I've been frequenting for the past 51) went out of business? I personally know that many residents here would be devastated. I depend on them for that last minute cilantro I forgot to grab at Whole Foods, or that load of Ice Cream my stoned sister is craving.

A friend wrote an article a couple of years ago about her reflections after noticing that many of her favorite small shops in Wallingford had gone out of business. She looked up her Amazon shopping history and was mortified. The long and the short of her story is a vow to never shop on Amazon again. Well, that’s great, but that’s not our reality. There are probably 10 of her willing to do that in the city of Seattle. But is that what we really want anyway? Probably one third of my customers at Nube Green work at Amazon! And it’s too large and a way of life to end at this point. So what does that mean for the local grocery store? What does that mean for the local gift store? I’m not sure. But what I can do is share my own personal thoughts.


Mindfulness is the only possible road I can come up with right now. I also shop on Amazon. Yes, the owner of a “green” shop cheats. But really, is it even cheating? It’s a new economy that I can’t quite figure out as a consumer and a shop owner. Before any of my Amazon purchases, I do go through a little exercise. I ask myself questions like: Does the local grocery store carry this? Have I shopped there enough lately to feel like I’ve done my best if they do go out of business? Does Elliott Bay Books have this in stock? Can I wait?

 I’m not saying that there is a right or wrong here. I truly am scared of losing our local grocery store, and I’m also scared of losing my own attempt at retail. 

Please let me know your thoughts! What are your ideas about how we might find a balance between between the conveniences of online shopping and the importance of small, and special, local businesses? What are some of the the local businesses in town that you would hate to see close up?


1 Comment

Aldan
Aldan

March 26, 2014

I really appreciate these thoughts, Ruth. I think you’re asking some important questions about not only what kinds of businesses we want in our community, but also how we consumers might help keep them there.

Being involved in two small brick-and-mortar shops (full disclosure: Nube Green is one of them!) makes me biased, but I couldn’t imagine living in a Seattle, or any other city, that didn’t have a healthy offering of local “small and special” businesses to visit and explore and talk about with friends. We’re on our phones and computers so much these days (irony: I’m typing this of course), but in my opinion, online shopping doesn’t offer the intimacy and social experience of in-person retail.

Small, local shops are often cited as having higher prices than the online giants. This is generally true due to the big guys having vastly greater buying power (among other advantages). But as I see it, I can pay one of two prices: 1) a little more money at the cash register to keep retail gems like Re-Soul in Ballard, or landmarks like Elliott Bay Books, or cultural institutions like Scarecrow Video, or 2) the loss of these businesses altogether, resulting in a far less interesting landscape of chain and box stores as the only survivors of our collective shift to e-commerce.

My conclusion is nothing profound: If it’s important to us that we have businesses that help make our city lively and unique and interesting, then we have to mentally connect that desired outcome to the action of supporting those businesses.

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