Small Business Saturday

Here in the U.S., today, Saturday November 26, 2011, it is “small business Saturday.” While this “event” is sponsored by American Express, the intent is to encourage people to make purchases at small businesses over big-box retailers.

Why do I support small business?

My disdain for big box retailers originated in Oklahoma. Two cousins and some friends each owned small businesses in the small town where my Mom was born and raised, and where I spent many happy years part-time as a youth. One cousin owned a western store. He sold boots, shirts, jeans, belts, and tack (for riding horses.) Another cousin owned a ladies’ dress and sportswear shop. They were doing okay, keeping their families fed, and contributing to the local tax base.

Then, not surprisingly, Walmart came to town. While they promised not to compete directly, their empty promises brought cheap foreign-made clothing (and boots) to their store. Soon enough, people in that small town shopped there more and more and patronized my cousins’ stores less and less. Within a few years, each of my cousins had to go out of business, because they could not afford to operate a traditional small brick-and-mortar store when the ruthless retailing monster wielded its might to twist arms of vendors so they could offer prices far below what small businesses could afford to sell the same items for. Also, Walmart offered cheap Chinese-made knock-offs of major U.S.-made products.

In my opinion, Walmart (and other big box retailers) killed small business in towns across America. In my Mom’s small Oklahoma town, if you wanted to work in retail, you either worked for them (because they were the only retailer that had jobs), or you were unemployed. Further, Walmart has the awful reputation of not offering benefits like health insurance and retirement plans because most of their employees work part-time, below the threshold of hours required to qualify for these benefits.

My cousins had to leave town, abandon their homes, and start anew in other lines of work in larger cities. Their lives were forever changed by Walmart — and not for the better.

For them, and for the hundreds of thousands of lost small business retailers in America (including those who served them as vendors), I pledged never to set foot in Walmart. I have sustained my pledge for 30 years, and vow to maintain it. They suck. I also avoid similar big-box retailers that import cheap foreign-made products as best I can. (Trouble is, you can’t find an American-made TV any more, can you?)

I am pleased to say that once again for this coming Christmas holiday, all of the gifts that I have purchased have been bought through small businesses. I may have purchased on-line, but from a small business. But I have not purchased gifts from Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Amazon, Zappos, or the like.

Life is short: support small businesses. Even if it costs a bit more, the investment in our economy supporting U.S. labor and jobs is important.