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Thinking Outside the Big Box

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Holiday Survival Series

Aaron Brown, Owner, Town Center Music
Aaron Brown, Owner, Town Center Music

The advantages and disadvantages of big box retailers, like Walmart, Target, Costco, and Home Depot, for example, have been often enumerated and debated. While big box stores can undeniably provide convenience and economy for some shoppers, many feel that the closing of locally-owned businesses and the sense of community and customer care that are lost with their closing is important enough to counterbalance any gains the corporate-owned stores might provide.

The “buy locally” movement urges shoppers to support locally-owned businesses, many of which are located in downtown areas, promoting less car-dependency and more money going back into the community when local business owners reinvest locally, as opposed to big box profit being routed into a centralized corporate account. Big box stores tend to erect buildings of several thousand square feet, but if they move or expand elsewhere, the buildings quickly become eyesores as they sit abandoned on a sea of asphalt.

Smaller locally owned businesses are superior to big box stores in other ways, too, as they are more likely to stock specialty or unique items not generally found in generic larger stores, and they tend to hire more knowledgeable sales staffs. The web site for one locally owned business, Town Center Music (formerly Braswell Music) in Suwanee, highlights the staff”s passion for a variety of music-related topics.

Not only does Town Center Music rent band instruments and accessories (both in-store and through their collaboration with online instrument rentals), but their music teachers are all certified by the Atlanta Institute of Music. The staff also provides instrument set up advice and demonstrations; they repair on-site (guitars) or contract with a local band equipment repair shop or electronics service center. In addition, about every three months, Town Center partners with local venues that give students a chance to perform music in public in a low stress environment.

Clearly, the range of services far exceeds those of a big box retailer whose services might extend no further than providing a self-check-out station. Today, shopping without ever speaking a word to a sales clerk is not only possible but is very likely becoming the norm, and many feel that losing this collective sense of community goes beyond mere dollars and cents.

To encourage shoppers to gravitate more often toward locally owned businesses rather than big box retailers, the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce began offering a discount card in May 2012 to encourage local shopping. The Shop In Gwinnett card offers hope for businesses that have struggled in recent years.

County schools and charities offer the card for $20, half of which will go to benefit schools. Any locally owned businesses seeking to enroll in the program should call the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce at 770-232-3000, and residents can order their card at www.shopingwinnett.com and support the nonprofit partner of their choice. The web site lists participating businesses categorized by retail, dining, entertainment, and services. The list includes pest control, plumbing, self-storage, ESL classes, auto repair, florists, dinner theatre, bowling, orthodontics and many more. Take that, Walmart!