The recent trials and tribulations of DeLand’s local toy store the Wily Owl, and their subsequent successful call for community support, bring up one of the most important concerns of small businesses Downtown.
Not everyone makes it out of the gaping maw of financial ruin. In truth, the story is familiar — in fact, Downtown DeLand was devastated by the rise of big-box stores in the mid-1980s, leading to the creation of a tax program that now pays for the MainStreet DeLand Association.
Then, of course, after the rise of big-box stores came the rise of Amazon and internet shopping.
Locals remember the empty storefronts and deserted streets. When I was a kid, we called it “Deadland.” The idea of winning “Best Little Main Street” was unthinkable. There was nothing to do, and nowhere to go.
Now almost everyone enjoys the large events thrown every year, better restaurants, and weird and unique finds.
It’s nice to go Downtown and not only be able to see the debris of what once was, but to see proof of life that is thriving and diverse and vibrant.
It’s nice to show off the town to visitors, and to be able to be proud of it.
But businesses here aren’t all doing well.
Wily Owl is an example of an excellent toy store that for all intents and purposes should do well.
But philosophically, we’re still conditioned to shop outside of our neighborhood — to believe that the internet will have products cheaper.
The reason might really be more perception than fact — if you compared Wily Owl prices to those online, with few exceptions, it’s the same price or lower.
Indeed, small-business owners have to check their prices against those online and make sure they’re offering competitive rates. But it doesn’t matter if we just believe we’ll find it cheaper online.
Wily Owl is just an example of something every single business Downtown has to deal with — and not just in DeLand, but any local business in any small city. Orange City, Lake Helen, DeBary, Deltona and Pierson, are all fighting the same fight.
And ultimately, it’s not cheaper if the stores go out of business.
It’s not cheaper to have an unused storefront; it’s not cheaper to limit the number of jobs available.
And two-day delivery, and returning online orders — two essential perks to much online shopping — have a higher carbon footprint than in-store shopping. So it’s not cheaper for our planet either.
If we want businesses Downtown that contribute to tourism, the economy and our daily lives — the ones that didn’t exist when I was a kid — to stick around, then we can’t just support them with sentiments.
In short, shop local.