There seems to be a disconnect. People understand the need to go to the doctor when they’re sick to keep healthy. They understand why it’s important to get out and vote to influence their political landscape. They understand that a college degree is important for their future job opportunities.
And yet, when it comes to shopping, people don’t seem to understand the connection between patronizing downtown businesses in their own town and the benefit to them personally -- that shopping in local stores will keep their downtown vibrant and storefronts from becoming empty; that their own property values will be supported; that there is a direct connection between their own shopping habits and their home investment.
So the question is, if a vibrant downtown will help keep property values high and property taxes contained for its residents, why don’t residents shop more in their own towns? The obvious answer is simple and true – that online shopping is more convenient. We love online shopping because we can find most of what we need without getting up from the couch, and we know that whatever we order will be delivered to the front porch within a few days. Oh, and the parking dilemma – spaces in our downtown are often unavailable or inconvenient.
That said, we also go out of our way to frequent the downtown retail stores in Westfield that we love, whether it’s Blende Beauty for custom makeup, Jude Connally for dresses, Sole for shoes, Blue Mercury for cosmetics, Athleta for yoga pants, Savory Spice for rubs, Patricia & Paul for balsamics, The Farmhouse Store for home gifts, etc. We do this because we know that if we simply purchase these same items online, the local store (even if it’s a national chain) gets no credit and may need to change their business model or dreadfully, go out of business. We understand that without our local patronage, we cannot hold onto the retail mix we enjoy downtown.
Some residents and shoppers like to use social media to express surprise and disappointment that retailers are closing in downtown Westfield and sometimes vilify landlords and high rents for the business failures. Perhaps there is some validity to that. It is also possible that people don’t understand the connection between their own behavior and the retail reality around them.
We are fortunate to live in a community which rallies around to support our friends, neighbors and worthy causes. We need to do the same for our local stores. Westfield residents don’t need to stop shopping online or feel guilty; however, they need to go out of their way to think of ways to patronize Westfield stores as well so they do their part to sustain our healthy downtown -- not for the shopkeepers benefit, but for themselves.