Is The Internet Killing Main Street?

Thursday, 16. July 2009

Is the Internet killing Main Street, or was it already dead?

When I was a kid, I could walk down Las Tunas Blvd. and not go more then 3 store fronts without knowing the the business owner’s names. Well, at least their family names, because back then you called people by their last name, usually preceded by a Mr., Mrs. or Miss.

That’s not to say that there weren’t Super Markets and Department Stores. But you still went down to the corner drug store to get your prescriptions, paper and office supplies were purchased from the local stationary store, and small toy stores and hobby shops were where I would go and dream of all the fun I could have for the price of a months allowance.

OK, don’t worry, I’m not going to break into how I used to have to walk to school in the snow, or how all we had was dirt, and we were glad to have dirt, because all the neighbor’s had was mud, and so on, and so forth… But you get the idea.

The End of My Main Street…

I’m not really sure when it happened. It started slowly, but by the early 80s, it had accelerated to a level that made it just about unstoppable. All the little stores were closing. The guys in Washington blamed the economy, but when you asked the small business owners, they pointed a finger squarely at the big box stores. Regardless of what the real reason was, the mom and pop businesses were all going away.

I remember how sad I was hearing that the local drug store where I grew up, was closing for good. I remember one time as a kid, overhearing a young woman at the counter explaining that her husband was out of work, and so she didn’t have enough money to pay for her little baby’s prescription. With out hesitation, the owner came up to the counter and said, “Now you don’t worry, you just take these home and bring the money in when you have it”. I’d like to see that happen at CVS.

But, for better or for worse, we let my main street die. Mom and pop traded in their cash registers for rocking chairs, and the world became a little colder.

Let’s all go to the mall and hang out!

Well, for the retailers that were too young for the rocking chairs, they figured that the best way to compete with a store that had everything, was to get a bunch of stores that sell different things, and put them all together in one big place. So, the mall was born! In the 80s and 90s, malls were popping up all over the place. And they were being filled by a combination of chain stores, mom and pops, and franchise stores. Not exactly like main street, but it still had a bit of a personal feeling to it. The big money makers back then were toy stores and novelty stores selling the kind of stuff you would give as gifts. The mail became a destination for the high school crowd to walk and be seen, and in some ways, still is even today.

Alas, this too was not to last. The malls realized that they could charge huge rental fees. Mom and pop again had to choose if it was worth the cost to live the dream. I again saw the mom and pop stores closing, being taken over by big faceless national chain retailers.

Again, it seemed no one cared. And why would they? They were getting lower prices. A better selection. And most of all, they were unaffected by the change in the social economical makeup of the town.

The Information Super Highway…

While all the folks on Wall Street were trying to come up with bigger and better ways to make money from nothing, a strange bill was quietly moving through the US congress. The Information Infrastructure Technology Act of 1992, authorized commercial use of an up until then, strictly academic computer network, funded by DARPA, commonly known as The Internet. Little did anyone know what this would mean to our economy, our country, or ourselves.

It took a bit it get on The Internet back then. In the beginning, you really needed to be “connected”, to get “connected”. The only direct connections were owned by the government and universities. But, like the west of the 1800’s, people found a way. ISPs popped up, and the great land grab began.

On-line Shopping. The New Main Street.

Sometime after about 2001, all those great profit reports the national chain storesĀ  in the malls used to post began to look a little less then great. They were having a hard time competing with the Internet retailers. Those pesky mom and pops that couldn’t cut it against chains and big box stores in the world of brick and mortar, all of a sudden, were selling stuff on line!

That’s right, The Internet offered a chance for all the independent “little guys” to go out and make a name for themselves! Many of these small online companies took their little web sites all the way to Wall Street, and struck it RICH!

Strange thing… Those mom and pops are still on the web, and are still able to run their little businesses. That’s because the cost of doing business on the web is nothing like what it costs to run a traditional business.Not to say that it’s easy to run a business on The Internet, but at least it’s easier to compete.

And guess what: The national chains and the big box stores are on the web now too. But because of the reduced overhead of running a web only business, mom and pop can still deliver many types of products at a competitive price to the consumer. And because The Internet is world wide, they are no longer limited by their geographic location.

My God, it’s full of stars clothing stores….

Oh, and what about the malls? Well, they are full of clothing stores, fast food places, and other merchandise that is not currently suited for sale on-line.

So, is The Internet killing Main Street?

Well, if you ask me, The Internet probably saved what I consider Main Street. Because of The Internet, a person with a good idea, and the desire to try to build a small business that they can call their own, can still try!

— Stu


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