Last week over in the Pro-Hibbing Facebook Group there was a very active thread surrounding the idea of Walmart vs local “mom and pop” businesses. In a sense it very succinctly laid out the fact that small, local businesses close when you don’t shop there because of the solitary pursuit of the lowest price. Needless to say it’s been a very passionate (borderline nasty at times) conversation.
Honestly, I have mixed emotions about it. On one hand, it’s encouraging that so many people care so much about this issue and perhaps all of this anger and frustration can be channeled into a positive, constructive movement to support local businesses. On the other hand, it also runs the risk of generating nothing beyond a lot of heat and very little light.
What really worries me is all of these people speaking of downtown Hibbing as dead. Sure, there are a lot more empty storefronts than I would like to see, but I feel like this kind of language becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and a slap in the face to those businesses that ARE there. These past few years have been a rough economic ride and I feel we should put more energy into congratulating and encouraging the business owners we do have rather than lamenting those who are not there.
|Picture of SoHo Gallery & Gifts circa Fall 2009 after their fabulous exterior remodel. One of my favorite shops in town and proof positive that downtown Hibbing isn't dead. For more info: here's their listing on Made on the Range.|
Perception is powerful and when people perceive that “there is nothing in downtown Hibbing” that will fuel behavior to ensure that becomes reality. Please allow me to illustrate my point with a story.
Last summer I was staying in Hibbing for a bit and working in my sister’s clothing store. It had been a pretty quiet evening one day and I was probably about an hour from closing when a rather bubbly woman came into the shop.
She was a visitor in town from out of state, actually there for a few days in order to investigate/do the paperwork for starting up a business in town. She was so happy to have found our little boutique as she was looking for a few fun things for herself as well as some gifts for her daughters back home.
I helped her find some jewelry that was “just right” and a few other things. It was a pleasure to work with her and a great sale as well.
However, this encounter almost didn’t happen. The woman had explained to me when she arrived that she had asked several people in the local hotel where she was staying if there was a women’s clothing or gift shop in town. She was told that Walmart was really all there was in town. Lucky she decided to explore downtown herself and discover that this information wasn’t true.
So, to my fellow Pro-Hibbing people, yes, our economic decisions matter. If we want local businesses to thrive we need to vote with our pocket books. However, we also need to watch what we say and the messages we perpetuate.
This week’s challenge: do you know all of the local businesses we have in town? The chamber website is a good place to start, although you could also just take a cruise down 1st and Howard. Take some time to explore what these places have to offer and if it makes sense, commit yourself to shopping there; but don’t stop there. Remember how your words and recommendations have power. Seek out opportunities to remind people of the good things we have here in Hibbing. Start a positive chain reaction. You never know where it may lead.