While the convenience of online shopping has impacted holiday spending, downtown Franklin business owners are stepping up to urge residents to support the heartbeat of the community: small, local businesses.
While Amazon is considered the most valuable public company across the world, with a net worth of over $160 billion and a CEO whose net worth trails not far behind, studies show that the money Amazon is feeding back into local communities is almost nothing compared with that of independent businesses.
Civic Economics has completed several studies on local business impacts and “the Amazon effect,” and the results show that local retail shops recirculate more than three times the percentage of revenue back into the community than big chains such as Target and Walmart. This is calculated based on local employment, money spent at other local businesses by businesses and employees and other factors, such as donations, nonprofit support and more.
Marianne DeMeyers, owner of Tin Cottage and former Downtown Franklin Association president, said that she always tries to shop locally first, even for items that can be found online. Then she goes to box stores if she can’t find what she needs, using Amazon as a last resort.
She said that although she puts independent businesses first, she appreciates having chains such as Starbucks, Chico’s and Anthropologie around downtown Franklin as well, particularly because those businesses invest in small communities.
“Anthropologie owners started out investing in major historic buildings,” she said. “Their first building was a huge undertaking and investment in historical preservation, and they’ve been doing it ever since. So, if you’re going to have a chain store come in, that’s the one you want.”
She also said that chain stores have a bit more stability and can help a main street made up of mostly locally owned businesses such as those in Franklin stay afloat in tougher financial times.
“(Starbucks) can make it through a tougher economy, and people are coming down there like, ‘You know, it would be a delight to have a Starbucks today. And while I’m there, maybe I’ll just walk up and down Main Street a little bit and buy something here and buy something there,’” she said. “So, a healthy mix includes a couple of chains. Luckily, we have the right ones.”
Because these chains typically employ locally as well, the recirculated revenue in the community ranges from 13% to 30% depending on the type of business. In the bookselling industry alone, Civic Economics reports that “for (local) booksellers of medium profitability … approximately 28% of all revenue immediately recirculates in the local economy. … That compares favorably with Barnes & Noble, which returns only about 17% locally, and Amazon, which recirculates less than 4% of the sales revenue it earns in a typical American metropolitan area.”
Kathy Berry, owner of The Registry downtown, said it’s not always possible for small businesses to compete with Amazon’s prices, but there are some perks to brick-and-mortar stores that Amazon just can’t beat.
“(Customers) can come in and touch and feel and make sure they like it, whereas if they shop online, they don’t necessarily know for sure what they’re getting,” she said.
She also said that because downtown Franklin business owners get to know their customers and their neighbors, shopping becomes a community effort, and business owners can help their customers find what they need, even if that means referring them to that other shop down the block.
“If we don’t have it, we’ll suggest to them where they can maybe find it,” Berry said.
This is one of the reasons Visit Franklin CEO Ellie Westman Chin said downtown Franklin is great for holiday shopping.
“For people who live here, if they walk down Main Street on a Saturday afternoon to do their holiday shopping, they can probably knock out all their shopping in one trip,” she said, adding: “I think when you’re shopping local, it’s not just shopping, but it’s an experience. So, if you come to downtown Franklin and shop, and it’s lit up because we light it up so beautifully for the holidays, I think it’s an experience. You can come down with your friends or your family. You can sip a cup of hot cocoa and walk along and buy really unique gifts.”
Berry and DeMeyers said that a frequent complaint from Franklin residents is the lack of parking downtown, which Berry said has hurt her local customer base.
“Our regular customers hesitate coming downtown because they can’t find a place to park,” she said.
However, DeMeyers sees the crowded lots as blessings in disguise.
“The alternative to that is half of the buildings boarded up, three or four business owners, and a whole lot of parking available,” she said. “So, if five people came down a day because nothing was here, our heartbeat would be dying. … Our parking is not a problem, it’s actually a blessing in disguise because. If we had 200 parking places out there available, that means we’re not doing our job.”
She said she hopes locals will spend an extra few minutes finding parking in order to invest in their community because small businesses keep the economy alive.
Westman Chin said that while visitor spending is through the roof in Franklin, totaling nearly $480 million last year, locals make up a large percentage of these business’ customers as well, so a loss of local traffic could mean a loss of independent businesses and a hit to that $480 million figure.
“The shops and restaurants are going to be healthiest when there are both residents and visitors utilizing their shops,” Westman Chin said. “Sure, sitting at your house and logging onto Amazon is pretty darn easy, and you get to be in your comfy slippers, but the charm that you experience in Franklin — you’re not going to experience that when you’re on Amazon or any other online shop.”