Downtown stores outdo Amazon.com in local support
Some of my downtown business friends were stung by a comment here last week concerning the ever-quickening changes in retailing.
My commentary was inspired by a reader urging, in part, for someone to bring more stores downtown.
To be sure, someone has been trying. For more than 25 years, the Downtown Henderson Project — with support from the city, county, local banks and DHP members and volunteers — has worked earnestly to encourage property owners to keep buildings in good and historically restored condition (such as by offering low-interest loans for facade renovation and city tax abatements for building upgrades) as well as to recruit new businesses and promote activities to draw people downtown.
But as I noted, the momentum in retailing over the past 50 years has shifted from downtowns to suburban shopping centers to malls to big-box stores and now to online retailers such as Amazon.com.
True enough, some local store owners said. But, they reminded me, who steps up to sponsor the youth ball teams and contribute to the Colonels 2 College scholarship program?
What national retailer is offering 12 percent discounts to local educators on three days this spring to congratulate them for Henderson County Schools climbing to No. 12 in Kentucky in No Child Left Behind rankings?
“Amazon won’t be there to support” community organizations, one merchant observed (while asking to remain anonymous).
“It’s very seldom that I say no to giving back to the community,” another shop owner said privately. “I want to see our community succeed; I want young people to get an education and come back and become entrepreneurs.”
“People shop at our stores because it’s entertainment,” one store owner observed. Often, their customers come from Evansville or Newburgh to sample the one-of-a-kind independent shops here and grab lunch downtown.
“We are a group of destination shops well worth exploring and giving your business to,” another shopkeeper commented to me on Facebook. “I know the world is changing and Amazon.com and others are taking over, but there are still those who hunger for a shopping experience like the ones they remember, and we can hopefully try to show the younger generation how fun it can be to actually shop with their friends and neighbors …”
“We’re here because we love it,” another store owner said. “We love the people.”
But it’s still a business, and it’s a challenge.
“For the people to have the shops they want downtown, they’ve got to support them,” one merchant observed.
Another store owner insisted that even with some store closings, downtown Henderson has a more vibrant retailing environment than the downtowns in Evansville, Owensboro or Paducah.
“They do have all the big-box stores, but they don’t have the specialty stores in a cluster like this,” she said.
And then there is service: “I had a watch that I thought needed a battery. I took it to Campbell’s and gave it to Harold (Campbell, a licensed watchmaker). Harold looked at it and said, ‘It’s not the battery; it’s the workings. You need to leave it here.’ Three days later, they called and said it was ready to be picked up. I asked, what was wrong? They said, he had to replace the workings. The bill was just $22. Where else could you have a watch rebuilt … and it only costs $22?”
You can also get a splendid hometown lunch or dinner downtown — including some delicious desserts.
As I said: businesses that bring special talents, niche products and superior service can make it downtown. We have businesses like that here.