Local or Online?

My wife and I buy a great deal of merchandise online. That’s not by choice, but by semi-necessity. I say semi-necessity because I don’t absolutely need those shelled pistachio nuts, but we did need the cleaning supplies vanished from the shelves of all the local emporiums. I buy my shirts online, and I do wear collared dress shirts almost every day, because no local store carries any color but white or pale blue, or a wide variety of cowboy shirts, which aren’t exactly my style. Paradoxically, the western wear store which carried boots I could wear has gone out of business; so now I’m buying boots online as well.

It’s not just clothing, either. We’ve had to purchase outdoor furniture covers online because the local home improvement big box store runs out of covers within a month of initial summer stocking… and seldom reorders. Now that all the office supply stores have closed, the go-to for such supplies is Staples online.

It’s not that Cedar City is dying. The population has more than doubled over the past 10-15 years, and we have auto supply stores, tire stores, and Mexican food restaurants, as well as more than score of fast food outlets, but the nearest decent women’s wear store is 55 miles away, which might explain why my wife’s clothes and shoes are bought anywhere but in Cedar City.

Part of this might be because Cedar City is a university town, but given the significant numbers of large and elaborate houses being built here – and inhabited – I can’t believe that we’re the only people in the town who have to resort to online purchases of a significant amount of goods.

Yet, usually, if there’s money to be made, there’s some entrepreneur ready to fill that need. If Cedar City can’t support one office supply store, when at one time there were three, when the population was significantly smaller, does that reflect a diminishing need for office supplies or lower profit margins for such stores… or both? I can see the decline in the sale of dress shirts for men and classy clothes for women, at least here in Cedar City, but the decline of western wear?

And even if these and other items no longer sell in large enough quantities to be “profitable,” does this mean that proprietors want more profit, or that there really is no profit in rural towns such as Cedar City, with a market area of approximately 50,000 inhabitants?

The result is that this reduced and diverted commerce goes elsewhere and reduces overall local income, as well as entailing a tremendous amount of waste in terms of the bubble wrap and cardboard used to package and deliver online goods. But if I have to choose between driving three hours one way [the nearest city to sell items not available here] to buy what might be called standard purchases or to use the internet… the internet wins almost every time… and the economy of Cedar City loses.

3 thoughts on “Local or Online?”

  1. Monica says:

    I live in a semi-rural part of Oregon and the nearest shoe store that isn’t Wal-Mart is a half hour drive away. There used to be a place here in town, but not any more.

    A lot of the shops started closing when internet shopping became popular, because they couldn’t compete on price with an internet retailer. A lot of people here seem to prefer to shop online and save a buck or two, rather than patronize local shops.

  2. Wine Guy says:

    Sir and Ma’am, you just described all of small town USA. The essay and the comment exactly describe where I live in rural CA.

    Do I feel bad about it? Sort of – I buy local when I can but I don’t feel guilty if Amazon and the like end up filling the order.

  3. Postagoras says:

    In the Olden Days when stores served as local warehouses for goods, the various stores competed on price and curation. The good grocer out-competed the bad one, the knowledgeable movie clerk bested the others, etc.
    The reputation for good curation has to be very good for a brick-and-mortar store to stave off the competition of online convenience, but it’s possible. Bookstores and boutiques seem to be the best at building those reputations.
    That reputation can fade from one generation to the next, so the survivors may just be the tail end of the brick-and-mortar tradition.

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