Big box stores eating big box stores

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The forthcoming closing of Richmond's Target store, reported in the Palladium-Item on November 6th, is certainly a troubling development for the local economy. Jobs will be lost, the convenient shopping will need to be found elsewhere, and yet another "big box" piece of real estate will need to be filled.

But perhaps more troubling than these obvious effects are the more subtle implications of how we as a community think about and support local businesses. Our downtown, and our local small business community in general, already face a number of struggles that come from the increasing prevalence of "big box" stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Lowe's and Meijer. Money spent at these locations for the most part leaves our hands and goes directly to Georgia or Minnesota or North Carolina or Michigan, instead of being reinvested in the local community.

For better or worse, we (myself included) are often willing to make trade-offs against this kind of consideration because these stores promise us great value and unmatched shopping convenience. But it seems it should greatly concern us when one of these locations, which typically do quite well in cities like Richmond, can't even make a profit here. I would like to think that Target has seen increased competition from local businesses, but I suspect instead that it suffered at the hands of its own "big box" peers. And so when it is no longer just a matter of big stores driving out local businesses, but is now a matter of big stores driving out other big stores, perhaps we should look harder at what kind of economy and retail community we are trying to build.

The value we get from a strong and diverse local business community is hard to see when compared as a "bottom line deal" against the attractions of the "big box" stores. And I'm not suggesting that these larger retailers don't have a place in a strong local economy. But my hope is that we'll see the Target store closing as yet another indicator of an important trend. By putting so many of our eggs in baskets that lack the personal ties and community investments that our local businesses are built around, we set ourselves up for even greater disappointments and more noticeable disappearance of the business ethic, entrepreneurship, and innovative spirit around which Richmond has historically been built.

The closing of the Target store is a significant loss, but what it says about our economic priorities is the real story.

This article was submitted to the Palladium-Item as a Letter to the Editor on November 7, 2004, but exceeded their 300 word limit.

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