If you’re a small, local retailer, how can you compete with the big chain stores? In many areas of the country, local governments are helping small businesses by passing legislation, promoting “buy in the neighborhood” campaigns, and even, in some cases, financing downtown redevelopment.
The City of Santa Clarita, California, is an upscale suburb outside Los Angeles, but its businesses are sharing the current economic woes. One of the ways the city has committed to helping its retailers survive and thrive is by creating the Shop Santa Clarita Web site. The site reveals how much city sales taxes benefit the town and its citizens, along with the services the sales tax supports.
It offers a comprehensive list of areawide retailers in every type of retail sales and service, from accounting and finance to vending companies. Click a service and you will find a list of businesses in the Santa Clarita area offering that service, with contact information, Web site addresses, hours, and more.
Businesses can add their listings quickly and easily with a do-it-yourself entry page that has only one requirement: that the business is located inside the city’s boundaries. It’s a great way to find local merchants quickly and effectively, and it has helped Santa Clarita retain its claim as one of the top 25 retail cities in the country, with a population of just 160,000.
Ask your town or city government to create a similar program to support your community. Most towns already have Web sites set up to give people information on services. Ask if it will put together a site on retailers, as well. It’s an excellent service to consumers. Even more importantly, by highlighting the services that this tax base supports, people might think twice about heading to the mall the next time they need a book or a birthday gift. If the site is already up and running, there would be minimal expense to add this feature to the site. And if a community retailer is Web savvy, offering to set up the page and maintain it would make this an easy sell.
Some cities, such as Benicia, California, have found other creative ways to support neighborhood businesses. In an attempt to help its downtown core businesses grow, the city has enacted ordinances that limit the size of new retail developments and buildings. New retailers have to meet certain criteria, such as appearance, which helps preserve the character of the surrounding area.
You can suggest similar legislation in your own area by contacting your city, county, or state government representative and urging them to create similar city codes to help protect the economic health of small business centers.
Adding additional retail space in a downtown or other retail area can help, too. Cities often redevelop downtown areas with this in mind. Adding space for new restaurants, retailers, and service-related businesses helps bring more shoppers to a retail area. In Reno, Nevada, the city helped develop the new City Market that is open year-round and includes kiosks for freshly baked bread, a coffee cart, fresh produce and local agricultural products such as honey and fresh cheeses, and much more. In the summer, the City Market plants a vegetable garden in the street median and closes the street off two or three times a week for a farmers market. It has helped retailers in the area get more attention and foot traffic, and it has been a great service for the growing downtown residential population, too.