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Original post made
on Apr 25, 2009
"Shop locally" is a feel good apple pie slogan that is poor advice for Palo Altans who approve of the Golden Rule.
First, people should shop where they get the best deal. Even the new CEO of GM when asked whether consumers should buy GM cars had the good sense to say that consumers should do what works best for them and their families.
But for a destination shopping area like Palo Alto "shop locally" is a Golden Rule gaffe no matter how appealing it sounds when someone says the words.
Because we don't want our neighbors to shop locally. As a destination center we want them to come to Stanford Shopping Center and we want them to fill our restaurants and streets on weekends becasue Palo Alto is a great place to hang out.
I understand that part of the shop locally idea is to generate more sales tax revenue to support city services. Beyond the fact that Palo Alto would probably end up with less revenue if people form other cities shopped locally, my take is that this is one more reason to change the way sales tax revenues are allocated.
"Shop locally", yes I'll do that. Since I live in South Palo Alto shopping locally means Mountain View.
Half the population of Palo Alto is closer to Sears, Walmart, Target, REI, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Officemax and Costco; all of which have ample parking without risking a parking ticket!!
Lets face it Downtown Palo Alto is difficult to get to, let alone park. We'll leave University Avenue to the pick-pockets and homeless, and the workers from City Hall.
You can only shop locally if there are stores to shop in which carry what you need.
We have a few tiny grocery stores, the best/only place in town to buy practical items is Walgreens. Unless you want to go out to eat, buy a rug or cell phone, or be accosted by people begging, shopping takes place in Mountain View and Redwood City. The parking is easy, the selection of items is 100 times bigger. How "green" is it to have to drive all over a city to accomplish what one trip to Target can do? Then add in the random street construction, often on parellel street so you can't actually get where you are going...
I love shopping downtown and do so often because shopping downtown works well for my needs.
My intent in the post was not to trash Palo Alto but only to point out the dilemma in urging an action that you don't want residents in other cities to take.
To push the point a little further, I bet that most of the people who urge "shopping locally" would strongly oppose "Buy American" provisions in the law and never urge families to buy American products to protect local jobs. Such policies promote retaliation and bad feelings and are bad economics to begin with.
Take Shop Local one more step by supporting local Independent businesses. Local independents are our community and they give more back to the community.
Think of the Milk Pail, Keplers, Draegers, Sigonas, Gleim the Jeweler, Cheeky Monkey or Roger Reynolds Nursery. Where would we be without businesses that add so much character and give so much to our communities.
Hometown Peninsula is a local alliance of business owners and concerned residents who support the Shop Local theme.
We are 18 months old and growing. Whether you are in Mountain View, Palo Alto or Menlo Park, shopping local helps us all. Come to our next meeting, the first Monday of the month to learn more.
Always Think Local and Shop Local Independents.
I would shop in Palo Alto if the items I need are available in one stop locations at affordable prices.
I want a decent sized supermarket with a good deli, in store bakery selling hot bread at a reasonable price.
I want basic kids clothes and shoes of reasonable quality at reasonable prices.
I want school supplies at a store that does not run out of the popular items before the kids come home with their supplies lists.
I want to be able to run several errands without having to run to all directions of the compass to do so, library, post office, groceries, etc. reasonably located to each other would be ideal, but I know that is asking too much. It amazes me that walkable neighborhoods means these basics are miles apart.
Shop locally? As long as I get my plastic bags and Styrofoam containers. As soon as my convenience becomes a secondary concern I go where I'm wanted.
As a founding member of Hometown Peninsula Independent Business Alliance I am delighted to read of the interest of Palo Altans to shop local. I know of at least eight great reasons to shop at Locally Owned Independent Businesses:
1) More money is kept in the community because locally owned businesses purchase from other local businesses, service providers and farms. Purchasing locally helps grow other businesses as well as your community's tax base.
2) Most new jobs are provided by local businesses: Small local businesses are the largest employer nationally.
3) Local business owners invest in community: Local businesses are owned by people who live in this community, are less likely to leave, and are more invested in the community's future.
4) Customer service is better: Local businesses often hire people with more specific product expertise for better customer service.
5) Reduced environmental impact: Locally owned businesses can make more local purchases requiring less transportation and generally set up shop in town or city centers as opposed to developing on the fringe. This generally means contributing less to sprawl, congestion, habitat loss and pollution.
6) Public benefits far outweigh public costs: Local businesses in town centers require comparatively little infrastructure investment and make more efficient use of public services as compared to nationally owned stores entering the community.
7) Encourages investment in your community: A growing body of economic research shows that in an increasingly homogenized world, entrepreneurs and skilled workers are more likely to invest and settle in communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind businesses and distinctive character.
8) Non-profits receive greater support: Non-profit organizations receive an average 350% greater support from local business owners than they do from non-locally owned businesses.
and when Kepler's can beat the prices I get on Amazon.com I will shop at Keplers (and yes, for some of us money does matter). Bottom line, I will shop where the prices are best--local, chain and/or online.
All this "eight great reasons to shop at Locally Owned Independent Businesses: " is either trying to make people feel guilty for not supporting locally owned business or a justification for the higher prices one has to pay to shop there.
Amazon has an unfair advantage over Keplers as do all web stores.
It is time to sunset the no tax provision for internet commerce and have a level playing field for all vendors
Jacob--what you suggest is communism. Should we also ban sales on items? Should every similar item ine very store have the same price so as to have a "level playing field"
I love shopping locally because of getting to know the familiar faces and business owners. Of course I may be biased, since I am from Sigona's, but I think of local as "locally-owned". This means more tax dollars back into the community and more ownership profit dollars being spent locally, as well as bigger employee payroll based locally, as well as buying from locally based vendors-thus dollars recycled back into the community much more than chain stores, which are headquartered elsewhere.
Stacy Mitchell wrote a great book, called The Big Box Swindle, where she chronicles communities taken over by big chains, where citizens are usually less happy about the state of affairs and there is less of a interesting mix of businesses as well as communities thriving with independent businesses. The bottom line is that you can save a buck in the immediate time by shopping WalMart, but over time we all lose out on a richer more vibrant community.
It is just about being aware and choosing to shop locally and at independents. I still shop the chains, but more and more I choose the independents.
Changing the Internet and catalog sales tax rules will not solve the Kepler's vs. Amazon problem. I am in favor of taxing all sales - our states and local governments are losing out on desperately needed tax dollars. But let's be honest here, the reason Amazon beats Kepler's is due to 1) convenience (order from home); 2) price; 3) availability.
Even if sale taxes implemented, Amazon will still beat the traditional brick and mortar stores.
[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Sales tax needs to be fair across the board ie for internet sales.
In the case of books they will still be cheaper from Amazon but local book stores offer the advantage of browsing,author talks, etc for those willing to pay more.
The original intent of suspending sales tax on internet sales was to encourage the fledgling internet commerce years ago, that is no longer relevant as it is now well established.
We should either abolish sales tax or have it across the board.
Particularly in these hard times, of course we think about saving. But we need to think beyond our own pocketbooks and look at the larger picture of what small, local businesses provide for our communities. Besides service, the personal touch, going the extra mile, they support us by sharing in our lives--posting flyers, donating goods, volunteering manpower to activities that enrich our lives, whether it be a school fund-raiser or a library event. In light of such invaluable contributions, I for one don't hesitate to pay the extra dollar because I know that it comes back many times over. It's not only about the money--local businesses and organizations like Hometown Peninsula have a higher vision that we need to support.
How much is all this going to cost residents, e.g., to subsidize Drekmeier's farmer's market? Will more money be wasted on "Winter Wonderland" and "Shop Palo Alto" banners? Will streets be closed for the events?
People shop where they can find what they need at a good price, where service is good, and where there's easy parking. I agree that Wal-Mart treats vendors and employees badly, but Target and CostCo are great.
Palo Alto is big on slogans ("regional cooperation for local self-reliance") that don't mean much at the end of the day. So much easier than getting to the root of the problem.
I would think the city would be glad we shop online because it reduces traffic and carbon footprints.
What are the success criteria for these feel-good plans? Are they a way to convince businesses that paying a tax on gross receipts is a good deal?
The city council and Sherry Bijan should be reading the blogs on Downtown's Down Time at
and PA Needs a Revenue Strategy at
The Town & Country sign for Trader Joe's says "Coming Spring 2009" and they haven't even broken ground yet. That means that each week I'm off to Menlo Park to for my weekly errands and end up patronizing other Menlo Park stores on the same trip. Figure that's about $6,000 a year just for me. Then multiply that for other Palo Alto residents.
In a recession, people will save money by shopping at TJ's -- and PA will continue to lose tax revenue and try to make it up by raising utility rates and further irritating us.
Until Palo Alto can move more quickly, we'll continue to see sales tax revenues decline. Kepler's is in Menlo Park. Nightlife is in Redwood City at the wonderfully restored Fox Theaters.
Maybe the city can start cutting spending like the $250K tourism promote so we don't have to subsidize Palo Alto Utilities. The rest of us are cutting back while we try to cope with high utility rates and higher sales tax. Just a thought.
Remember how close to blowing Frys away the city came?
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